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COMMONWEALTH v. PATTERSON (10/28/68)

decided: October 28, 1968.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
PATTERSON, APPELLANT



Appeal from order of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Allegheny County, April T., 1966, No. 1030, in case of Commonwealth v. John C. Patterson.

COUNSEL

John C. Patterson, appellant, in propria persona.

Charles B. Watkins and Carol Mary Los, Assistant District Attorneys, and Robert W. Duggan, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Chief Justice Bell concurs in the result. Mr. Justice Musmanno did not participate in the decision of this case. Mr. Justice Cohen took no part in the consideration or decision of this case. Concurring and Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice O'Brien.

Author: Roberts

[ 432 Pa. Page 78]

This appeal results from the denial, without an evidentiary hearing, of a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed in the Court of Oyer and Terminer of Allegheny County. Appellant was indicted and tried on a charge of murder. At his trial before a jury beginning February 26, 1962, appellant pleaded not guilty, but near the close of the trial he was permitted to change his plea to guilty to a charge of murder generally. The matter then proceeded before the court to determine the degree of guilt, which hearing resulted in a finding of guilty of murder in the first degree. Patterson was sentenced to life imprisonment, and took no appeal.

While we need not, at this time, pass on whether appellant is entitled to the writ of habeas corpus, we do think that the court below erred in dismissing this matter without holding an evidentiary hearing. Among other things, Patterson alleged that his guilty plea was not voluntary. To this end, he asserted as matters of fact, that during a trial recess he and his attorney were passed in the hallway by the district attorney who stated that unless he changed his plea to guilty "it would be too late to save him." Appellant next alleged that his own counsel agreed with this evaluation, and "threatened" Patterson with the electric chair unless the guilty plea was entered.*fn1

We recognize the fact that hope for a more lenient sentence can certainly form a valid basis for a guilty plea. However, the plea must nevertheless be the free and uncoerced product of its maker. Thus, it is one thing to say that a man voluntarily chooses to plead

[ 432 Pa. Page 79]

    guilty with the hope of avoiding a death sentence, yet quite another to say that he enters his plea solely out of the fear injected into his mind by what could almost appear, to a man untrained in the law, as some sort of private agreement between opposing counsel to which the defendant himself was not even privy.*fn2 In order to properly decide exactly what motivated Patterson's plea, therefore, it is necessary for the court below to hold an evidentiary hearing.

This in no way should indicate that we believe appellant was, in fact, coerced into entering his plea. We hold only that, accepting as true the facts alleged in appellant's habeas corpus petition, the plea cannot stand.*fn3 In Commonwealth ex rel. West v. Myers, 423 Pa. 1, 222 A.2d 918 (1966), appellant also alleged that his guilty plea was entered involuntarily and at the sole urging of counsel. In holding that this allegation was sufficient to justify an evidentiary hearing we said, quite simply: "If accepting the petitioner's allegations as true the writ would issue, then it is incumbent upon the court to hold a hearing affording the petitioner the opportunity to establish the truth of his allegations." Id. at 4, 222 A.2d at 921.*fn4

Appellant also alleges, albeit in rather unsophisticated terms (the habeas ...


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