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COMMONWEALTH v. DICKERSON (10/04/72)

decided: October 4, 1972.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
DICKERSON, APPELLANT



Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Sept. T., 1969, Nos. 736 to 739, inclusive, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Pecola Dickerson.

COUNSEL

Neil Leibman, for appellant.

Peter J. Smith 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.

Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen.

Author: Eagen

[ 449 Pa. Page 71]

On September 18, 1970, the appellant, Pecola Dickerson, entered a general plea of guilty to an indictment charging her with the murder of one Granville Sawyer.*fn1 As part of a plea bargain the Commonwealth had certified that the charge rose no higher than second degree murder. After the taking of testimony, appellant was adjudged guilty of murder in the second degree and was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than three nor more than ten years. No appeal was taken.

[ 449 Pa. Page 72]

In March of 1971 appellant filed a Post Conviction Hearing Act petition, contending, inter alia, that her guilty plea was invalid because it was induced by a promise of a specific sentence which was not kept.*fn2 After an evidentiary hearing, the lower court denied relief and this appeal was then taken.

A summary of the facts of this case, as related by the assistant district attorney at the time the plea was entered, is as follows: On July 11, 1969, appellant and two other persons (Carolyn Carrecter and Irvin Moore) were cruising the streets of Philadelphia in an automobile looking for narcotics. After a time they proceeded to the residence of Granville Sawyer to steal money to obtain the drugs. Shortly after appellant and Moore entered these premises, a shot was heard. Neighbors then saw Sawyer come to the door of his home holding his stomach and saying, "the man shot me in the belly." Appellant later surrendered to police and made a statement acknowledging her participation in the crime. The statement to police and appellant's testimony at Irvin Moore's trial were that she was upstairs looking for objects to steal when a commotion started, punctuated by a gun shot. As Sawyer staggered toward the front door, Moore and appellant ran out the back entrance.

[ 449 Pa. Page 73]

Appellant attempted to have her confession suppressed contending that she was under the influence of drugs at the time it was given. A pretrial hearing was conducted before Judge Weinrott and the motion was denied.

The post-conviction hearing was held before Judge Doty on June 10, 1971. At that time appellant testified that her guilty plea was motivated by a promise of an eleven and one-half to twenty-three month sentence made by the Assistant District Attorney William Stevens. She also alleged that her attorneys showed a decided lack of interest in the case, never explaining why she was charged with murder nor why she should plead guilty.

Mr. Baran, a member of the bar with extensive experience in the trial of criminal cases, testified at this hearing that he and his co-counsel had discussed with appellant the question of entering a guilty plea and the various alternatives prior to the time of trial. He refuted the charges of disinterest by noting that together with his colleague he had met with Mrs. Dickerson on at least six occasions to discuss the case and prepare for trial. He stated he had no knowledge of any promise of an eleven and one-half to twenty-three month sentence and asserted that the only promise made was the second degree certification together with a recommendation of a ...


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