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COMMONWEALTH v. VELASQUEZ (03/20/70)

decided: March 20, 1970.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
VELASQUEZ, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of Court of Quarter Sessions of Philadelphia County, May T., 1965, No. 1337, in case of Commonwealth v. Antonio Velasquez.

COUNSEL

Leonard Turner, for appellant.

Martin H. Belsky 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, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts.

Author: Roberts

[ 437 Pa. Page 263]

On September 16, 1965, appellant appeared in court for his trial on a murder indictment. When the case was called appellant's privately retained counsel requested leave to withdraw, and requested that the case be continued "for a date certain" to allow appellant time to obtain new counsel. These requests were made because appellant wished to proceed to trial, while counsel felt that appellant should plead guilty. The trial judge refused both requests, however, ruling that the trial must proceed.*fn* There followed a one-half hour

[ 437 Pa. Page 264]

    recess, after which appellant entered a plea of guilty. That afternoon a three-judge panel found him guilty of first degree murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment. No appeal was taken.

In September of 1967 appellant filed a petition pursuant to the Post Conviction Hearing Act alleging, inter alia, that his plea of guilty was unlawfully induced and that he was denied his right to appeal. Counsel was appointed and a hearing held. The hearing court agreed that appellant had been denied his right to appeal, but held that the plea was voluntary. This appeal followed.

"[A] valid guilty plea must be 'the defendant's own voluntary and intelligent choice, not merely the choice of counsel.'" Commonwealth v. Garrett, 425 Pa. 594, 599, 229 A.2d 922, 925 (1967). We cannot say that appellant's plea measures up to this standard. Appellant's lawyer wanted appellant to plead guilty; appellant wanted a trial, but the court would not permit him to secure counsel willing to try the case. Appellant, therefore, had the choice of accepting counsel's advice to plead guilty, or proceeding to trial with a lawyer who had already attempted to withdraw and

[ 437 Pa. Page 265]

    did not want to try his case. Under such circumstances it cannot be said that appellant had any real alternative to pleading guilty. Perhaps, from counsel's point of view, appellant's best strategy was to plead guilty. But, in a guilty plea, an accused must be permitted, if he so desires, to follow "the guidance of his own wisdom and not that of a lawyer." Adams v. United States ex rel. McCann, 317 U.S. 269, 275, 63 S. Ct. 236, 240 (1942). By refusing the continuance and the motion to withdraw, the trial court, in effect, forced him to follow his lawyer's wisdom and deprived his plea "of the character of a voluntary act." Machibroda v. United States, 368 U.S. 487, 493, 82 S. Ct. 510, 513 (1962); cf. Commonwealth v. Servey, 434 Pa. 433, 438, 256 A.2d 469, 471 (1969).

It is true that a defendant, whether represented by retained or appointed counsel, cannot continually request new counsel when disagreements arise. But "[s]ince a relationship of mutual confidence between lawyer and client is important to the lawyer's fulfillment of his professional functions, where good cause is shown by the defendant why that confidence does not exist the court should substitute counsel." ABA Minimum Standards, Providing Defense Services 51 (1967). In the instant case "good cause" was certainly shown. Further, no previous postponements ...


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