decided: December 29, 1971.
Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Oct. T., 1946, No. 944, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Robert Blackman.
Daniel M. Preminger and John W. Packel, Assistant Defenders, and Vincent J. Ziccardi, Defender, for appellant.
Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter and Milton M. Stein, Assistant District Attorneys, James D. Crawford, Deputy District Attorney, Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and Arlen Specter, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.
Bell, C. J., Jones, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy and Barbieri, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice O'Brien.
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On April 14, 1948, appellant, while represented by two court-appointed counsel, pleaded guilty to murder generally in the shooting death of Louis Nelson. A
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three-judge court, after hearing testimony, found appellant guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced him to life imprisonment. In November 1970, appellant's sentence was commuted, and he is now on parole.
On January 19, 1971, appellant filed a post-conviction petition, alleging that his guilty plea was involuntary and his counsel ineffective. At an evidentiary hearing, appellant testified that he never wanted to plead guilty and that his plea should not have been accepted because his own explanation of Nelson's death constituted a claim of self-defense inconsistent with his guilty plea.
Only one of his two court-appointed counsel was still living at the time of the hearing, and he testified that both he and his co-counsel advised appellant to plead guilty because they felt appellant's story lacked credibility and the district attorney's file, which they had read, contained a particularly damaging eyewitness account of the events, directly contradicting appellant's version of the incident.
The post-conviction hearing court, relying on North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970), held that where the guilty plea was entered in open court on the advice of competent counsel and supported by substantial prosecution evidence, it was not invalid simply because it was not followed by an admission of guilt.
However, we have stated that where the defendant, though pleading guilty, testifies to what amounts to a complete defense to the crime charged, his guilty plea cannot be a knowing and intelligent act and should not be accepted. Commonwealth v. Sampson, 445 Pa. 558, 285 A.2d 480 (1971); Commonwealth v. Shank, 446 Pa. 59, 285 A.2d 479 (1971); Commonwealth v. Roundtree, 440 Pa. 199, 269 A.2d 709 (1970). Despite the Commonwealth's suggestion that we should reconsider
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fault in provoking or continuing the difficulty which resulted in the killing. . . ." Commonwealth v. Roundtree, supra, at page 204, quoting from Commonwealth v. Johnston, 438 Pa. 485, at page 489, 263 A.2d 376 (1970).
By appellant's own account, he brought his gun into the affray before the victim had even shown a knife. Consequently, his testimony does not make out a valid claim of self-defense nor does it, by itself, indicate that his guilty plea was anything but voluntary.
Considering the other evidence offered at appellant's Post Conviction Hearing Act hearing, the court did not err in concluding that appellant did not meet his burden of proving that he did not fully understand the meaning of his guilty plea.
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