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COMMONWEALTH v. CHAMBERS (11/12/68)

decided: November 12, 1968.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
CHAMBERS, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Centre County, Dec. T., 1954, No. 26, in case of Commonwealth v. Leonard David Chambers, alias Leonard David Soltis.

COUNSEL

Lillian G. Raycroft, for appellant.

Charles C. Brown, Jr., District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen. Mr. Justice Musmanno did not participate in the decision of this case.

Author: Eagen

[ 432 Pa. Page 254]

On December 14, 1954, the appellant, Leonard David Chambers (alias Leonard David Soltis), was convicted by a jury of murder in the first degree and punishment was fixed at life imprisonment. No post-trial motions were filed and the judgment of sentence was imposed as the jury directed. No appeal was entered from the judgment.

In April 1965, in habeas corpus proceedings instituted by Chambers, the judgment and conviction were set aside by the lower court and a new trial was ordered.

[ 432 Pa. Page 255]

The court ruled that Chambers had been denied due process of law by the use at his trial of a guilty plea which he made before the committing magistrate; a plea made without either the assistance of counsel or an effective waiver of his rights.

On October 11, 1967, Chambers was again arraigned before the court and, in the presence of counsel, entered a plea of guilty generally to the charge of murder. Before the plea was accepted, the trial court personally conducted a thorough examination of Chambers so as to make certain that he acted voluntarily in pleading and that he completely understood the nature of the charge and the possible consequences of his plea. On October 23, 1967, a hearing was held before the court to determine the degree of guilt and at its conclusion, Chambers was again found guilty of murder in the first degree. Motions in arrest of judgment and for a new trial were subsequently denied and a sentence of life imprisonment was imposed. This appeal followed.

At the hearing to determine the degree of guilt, evidence of extra-judicial statements made by Chambers was admitted against him. It is now argued that the use of those statements was prejudicial error requiring a new trial, in that they were made when Chambers was in police custody without having been given the warnings mandated by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602 (1966). This is the sole assignment of error now advanced.

Assuming, arguendo, that the evidence now challenged should have been excluded, this, in itself, would not vitiate his guilty plea. Such error would require only a new hearing to resolve again the degree of guilt. Cf. Commonwealth ex rel. Sanders v. Maroney, 417 Pa. 380, 207 A.2d 789 ...


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