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COMMONWEALTH v. SAVAGE (01/15/69)

decided: January 15, 1969.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
SAVAGE, APPELLANT



Appeal from order of Court of Quarter Sessions of Philadelphia County, Dec. T., 1965, No. 1155, in case of Commonwealth v. Louis Savage.

COUNSEL

Elizabeth Langford Green and Melvin Dildine, Assistant Defenders, and Herman I. Pollock, Defender, for appellant.

Edward G. Rendell and James D. Crawford, Assistant District Attorneys, Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and Arlen Specter, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Bell, C. J., Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Jones.

Author: Jones

[ 433 Pa. Page 97]

Louis O. Savage (appellant) was indicted on a charge of murder for the stabbing death of Matthew Datts. On April 6, 1966, he entered a plea of guilty to murder generally and was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to four to twelve years' imprisonment. No direct appeal was taken.

Subsequently appellant filed a petition under the Post Conviction Hearing Act alleging that his guilty plea was entered without knowledge or understanding. A hearing was ordered for February 19, 1968. At the hearing, appellant testified he had not talked with his court-appointed lawyers about the crime until the day

[ 433 Pa. Page 98]

    of the trial and then for only three or four minutes. He said that he was never informed about the plea he eventually made, nor was he told what a general plea meant. Although the trial judge thoroughly examined appellant before taking the plea, appellant testified that he either did not hear the judge's questions or else did not understand them. At the post-conviction hearing counsel for appellant introduced his classification summary from Graterford Prison which termed appellant a mental defective.

Appellant raises two questions for our consideration. First, he contends, in the alternative, that the record establishes that he was not mentally competent to plead guilty or else more extensive tests and another hearing should be ordered to determine whether he was sufficiently competent to plead. Second, he contends that his guilty plea was not made knowingly and intelligently.

The test governing the competency of an accused to plead guilty was set forth by this Court in Commonwealth ex rel. Hilberry v. Maroney, 424 Pa. 493, 495, 227 A.2d 159 (1967): "[T]he test to be applied in determining the legal sufficiency of his mental capacity to stand trial, or enter a plea at the time involved, is not the M'Naghten 'right or wrong' test, but rather his ability to comprehend his position as one accused of murder and to cooperate with his counsel in making a rational defense. [Citing authorities]. Or stated another way, did he have sufficient ability at the pertinent time to consult with his lawyers with a reasonable degree of rational understanding, and have a rational as well as a factual understanding of the proceedings against him." See: Commonwealth v. Harris, 431 Pa. 114, 116-17, 243 A.2d 408 (1968). In a post-conviction hearing, the burden of proof is on the petitioner to prove that he was not competent to plead

[ 433 Pa. Page 99]

    guilty. Commonwealth ex rel. West v. Rundle, 428 Pa. 102, 104, 237 A.2d 196 (1968); Commonwealth v. McCauley, 428 Pa. 107, 108, 237 A.2d 204 (1968). The hearing judge determined that the petitioner had not carried his burden; we are ...


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