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decided: November 30, 1972.


Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Sept. T., 1968, No. 425, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Thomas Slavik.


Roger J. Ecker, Assistant District Attorney, with him Jess D. Costa, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellant.

George K. Hanna, for appellee.

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

Author: Roberts

[ 449 Pa. Page 425]

On November 21, 1968, defendant-appellee, Thomas Slavik, pleaded guilty to murder generally. At the degree of guilt hearing before a three-judge panel*fn1 defendant was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life imprisonment. Challenging the validity of his guilty plea, he appealed to this Court and on January 30, 1970, we affirmed the judgment of sentence. Commonwealth v. Slavik, 437 Pa. 354, 261 A.2d 583 (1970). In July, 1970, Slavik filed a petition for relief under the Post Conviction Hearing Act,*fn2 again challenging the validity of his plea. After a hearing

[ 449 Pa. Page 426]

    the PCHA court granted the defendant a new trial. The Commonwealth has appealed that decision.

We reverse the grant of a new trial. The validity of Slavik's guilty plea was decided on his direct appeal when the case was before us in 1970. Hence that issue was there finally litigated within Section 4 of the Post Conviction Hearing Act.*fn3

Section 4(a)(3) of the Post Conviction Hearing Act mandates that an issue is finally litigated if "[t]he Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has ruled on the merits of the issue."*fn4 On direct appeal to this Court the defendant challenged the constitutional validity*fn5 of his guilty plea by claiming the plea was not made voluntarily. The theory upon which petitioner based this claim of involuntariness was that he had been induced to plead guilty because of the existence of an illegally obtained confession. This Court, specifically addressing itself to that issue, found no merit in defendant's contention and affirmed the conviction. Former Chief Justice Bell, speaking for a unanimous court, said, inter alia: "Defendant also raises on this appeal the voluntariness of his guilty plea. As a basis for this contention, defendant states that after he had been apprehended and placed in the Washington County jail, members of his family requested

[ 449 Pa. Page 427]

Assistant District Attorney Herman Bigi to visit the defendant in jail. Mr. Bigi had represented the defendant prior to becoming Assistant District Attorney and was invited to visit the defendant as a friend. The meeting with defendant took place on July 30, 1968, several days prior to Morgo's death. At the time of Bigi's visit, defendant was not represented by counsel. The meeting between the defendant and Bigi began in a friendly manner, but concluded in Bigi's giving defendant the required Miranda (Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436) warnings and obtaining a written confession signed by defendant. Defendant urges that this confession was not voluntary and was not admissible, but that its existence induced and in effect required him to plead guilty, which he would not have done in the absence of such a confession.

"We are at a loss to appreciate this contention in view of the fact that on November 12, 1968 -- nine days prior to his guilty plea, at which time he was represented by counsel -- the trial Court granted defendant's motion to suppress the confession and impound the record of the hearing relating to the confession." Commonwealth v. Slavik, 437 Pa. 354, 359, 261 A.2d 583, 585-86 (1970). This Court's determination was unquestionably a direct response on the merits to defendant's challenge to the validity of his 1968 guilty plea.

In the present PCHA petition one of the issues*fn6 on which Slavik based his claim for relief was the invalidity

[ 449 Pa. Page 428]

    of the guilty plea -- the same question decided adversely to him on the direct appeal. However, in this petition Slavik urged a new theory to support his previously presented and litigated claim that his plea was constitutionally infirm. Slavik asserted that under Commonwealth v. Roundtree, 440 Pa. 199, 269 A.2d 709 (1970), his plea "should not have been accepted because the plea was no more than an ambiguous expression of qualified guilt coupled with a protestation of innocence." While it is true that under Roundtree if a defendant pleads guilty and simultaneously asserts facts establishing a defense to the charge his plea should be rejected, nevertheless Slavik cannot avail himself of Roundtree for two reasons. First his claim has been finally litigated; and secondly, Roundtree does not apply because Slavik did not present any exculpatory facts at the time he entered his plea.*fn7

[ 449 Pa. Page 429]

Based on its belief that Roundtree was applicable and was a change in the law, the hearing court granted a new trial. A reading of Roundtree with its progenitor, Commonwealth v. Cottrell, 433 Pa. 177, 249 A.2d 294 (1969), makes it clear, however, that Roundtree does not represent a change in the law, but is merely another decisional reaffirmance of the existing law set forth in Cottrell.*fn8 What the hearing court failed to

[ 449 Pa. Page 430]

    consider was the one most important, and indeed the dispositive issue in this case -- the finally litigated aspect of Slavik's claim under Section 4 of the PCHA. See Commonwealth v. Hill, 444 Pa. 75, 77, 279 A.2d 170, 172 (1971); Commonwealth v. Gates, 429 Pa. 453, 457, 240 A.2d 815, 817 (1968). Merely because appellee advances a new or different theory as a basis for his previously adjudicated claim does not alter the fact that this precise issue was decided adversely to petitioner in his previous 1970 direct appeal.

The Supreme Court of the United States, confronted with this identical issue in the analogous context of repetitive federal habeas corpus petitions, stated, inter alia, in Sanders v. United States, 373 U.S. 1, 15, 83 S. Ct. 1068, 1077 (1963), that relief could be denied if "the same ground presented in the subsequent application was determined adversely to the applicant on the prior application." The Court went on to define "ground" as: "a sufficient legal basis for granting the relief sought by the applicant. For example, the contention that an involuntary confession was admitted in evidence against him is a distinct ground for federal collateral relief. But a claim of involuntary confession predicated on alleged psychological coercion does not raise a different 'ground' than does one predicated on alleged physical coercion. In other words, identical grounds may often be proved by different factual allegations. So also, identical grounds may often be supported by different legal arguments, . . ." Id. at 16, 83 S. Ct. at 1077 (emphasis added).

[ 449 Pa. Page 431]

Here appellee in the collateral proceeding raises the same "ground" for relief he raised in his direct appeal -- the constitutional infirmity of his guilty plea. The only difference is that now he advances a "different legal argument" in support of that "ground." On direct appeal he contended his plea was infirm because coerced by the existence of an illegally obtained confession. Now he challenges the validity of his plea based on the holding of Roundtree, supra. A defendant is not entitled to relitigate the validity of his plea every time he offers a new theory or argument which he had not previously advanced.*fn9 To hold otherwise would virtually emasculate Section 4(a) of the PCHA, defeat its very objective, and permit constant and repetitive relitigation of issues already finally decided on their merits. "In the main, post-conviction remedies exist to try fundamental issues that have not been tried before." American Bar Association Project on Minimum Standards for Criminal Justice, Standards Relating to Post Conviction Remedies, ยง 6.1 (Approved Draft,

[ 449 Pa. Page 4321968]

); cf. Commonwealth v. Black, 433 Pa. 150, 249 A.2d 561 (1969).

Appellee's attack on the validity of the guilty plea was conclusively decided by this Court in 1970. That issue, so determined, reached the procedural and substantive end-of-the-line of the state's judicial process. Thereafter that same issue could not be subsequently reintroduced for judicial decision and again begin a tour of the state's judicial system. Indeed, Pennsylvania has a significant and compelling jurisprudential interest in preventing the useless burdening of its judicial machinery with repetitive consideration of issues previously decided. It is evident that the orderly administration of justice requires that a criminal controversy, like any other litigation, some day come to an end. Therefore, since the determination of the guilty plea's validity was a final decision on the merits of that issue within Section 4 of the PCHA, that issue may not be relitigated in a PCHA proceeding simply because another theory or argument is advanced.

The grant of a new trial is reversed.


Grant of a new trial reversed.

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