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COMMONWEALTH v. JAMES (10/09/70)

decided: October 9, 1970.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
JAMES, APPELLANT



Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Feb. T., 1954, No. 1001, in case of Commonwealth v. Isaac James.

COUNSEL

David Kairys, Assistant Defender, with him Melvin Dildine, Assistant Defender, and Vincent J. Ziccardi, Defender, for appellant.

James D. Crawford, Assistant District Attorney, with him Richard Max Bockol, Assistant District Attorney, 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 Eagen. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts.

Author: Eagen

[ 440 Pa. Page 207]

On June 1, 1954, the appellant, Isaac James, in the presence of and upon the advice of legal counsel entered a general plea of guilty to an indictment charging him with murder in the then Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Jail Delivery of Philadelphia County. The plea was accepted by a three-judge court, which then conducted an evidentiary hearing and adjudged James guilty of murder in the first degree. He was sentenced to imprisonment for life. No appeal was entered from the judgment.

In 1968, James instituted post-conviction relief proceedings under the Act of January 25, 1966, P. L. (1965) 1580, 19 P.S. 1180-1 et seq. (Supp. 1970) challenging the validity of his 1954 conviction and sentence. Following an evidentiary hearing, relief was denied and this appealed filed.

James was taken into police custody following the fatal stabbing of Harold Holmes after dissension arose between them from an incident in a basketball game played in a neighborhood public school yard. James was fifteen years of age at the time. Subsequent to his arrest, he was taken without counsel before a judge sitting in the Juvenile Court Division of the Municipal

[ 440 Pa. Page 208]

Court (now Court of Common Pleas, Family Division), who certified the case over to the district attorney for prosecution. These proceedings were not stenographically reported, or at least no record thereof is now available.

The Act of June 2, 1933, P. L. 1433, ยง 18, 11 P.S. 260, provides that where a child, being above the age of fourteen years, has been held for any offense, other than murder, punishable by imprisonment in a state penitentiary, a judge in the juvenile court having jurisdiction may certify the case to the district attorney for prosecution the same as if jurisdiction of the juvenile court had never attached, "if, in his opinion, the interests of the State require a prosecution of such case on an indictment." In Gaskins Case, 430 Pa. 298, 244 A.2d 662 (1968), we held that while the juvenile court has jurisdiction to determine delinquency, no matter what crime serves as the basis therefor, this does not oust the jurisdiction of the court of oyer and terminer over murder cases. If, at the hearing in the juvenile court, a prima facie case of murder is made out against a juvenile, then the court must hold the accused for prosecution in the court of oyer and terminer, subject, however, to the right of that court to return jurisdiction of the case to the juvenile court if it is determined such is in the best interests of the child and society.

James now maintains the hearing in the Juvenile Court and the certification of the case to the Court of Oyer and Terminer violated due process, and therefore his subsequent plea of guilty and judgment of sentence must be invalidated. Lack of due process is alleged for the following reasons: (1) absence of counsel for James at the hearing; (2) unavailability of a transcript of the proceedings; (3) the hearing court abused its discretion in certifying the case; (4) the ruling ...


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