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COMMONWEALTH v. BEECHAM (01/19/73)

SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: January 19, 1973.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
BEECHAM, APPELLANT

Appeal from order of Superior Court, Oct. T., 1970, No. 613, affirming the order of Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, June T., 1953, No. 364, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. William McKinley Beecham.

COUNSEL

David E. Auerbach, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant.

Vram Nedurian, Jr. and Ralph B. D'Iorio, Assistant District Attorneys, and Stephen J. McEwen, Jr., District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

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

Author: Roberts

[ 450 Pa. Page 198]

Appellant, William McKinley Beecham, pleaded guilty to two counts of burglary and larceny on June 2, 1953. He was sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment of not less than five nor more than twenty years. No appeal was taken.*fn1

On December 15, 1966, appellant filed a pro se petition pursuant to the Post Conviction Hearing Act [PCHA], Act of January 25, 1966, P. L. (1965) 1580, §§ 1 et seq., 19 P.S. §§ 1180-1 et seq. (Supp. 1972), alleging, inter alia, that his 1953 guilty plea was involuntary. Following appointment of counsel, the trial court dismissed the petition without a hearing.*fn2 That court

[ 450 Pa. Page 199]

    held that the record "completely refutes this allegation" and, thus, the petition is "utterly without merit." This decision on the merits was affirmed by the Superior Court. Commonwealth v. Beecham, 211 Pa. Superior Ct. 707, 234 A.2d 224 (1967). Allocatur was denied on February 16, 1968.*fn3

On February 25, 1970, appellant filed a second PCHA petition challenging the voluntariness of his 1953 plea. The petition was denied without a hearing and the denial was affirmed by the Superior Court. Commonwealth v. Beecham, 217 Pa. Superior Ct. 744, 268 A.2d 239 (1970). We granted allocatur and now affirm.

Appellant's principal claim in his second 1970 PCHA petition is that his guilty plea was involuntarily entered.*fn4 The trial court, in dismissing this petition, properly held that the voluntariness of the plea had been "finally litigated," within the meaning of Section 4 of the PCHA, by virtue of the disposition of the first, counseled, 1966 PCHA petition.

Section 4 of the PCHA provides: "(a) For the purpose of this act, an issue is finally litigated if: (1) It

[ 450 Pa. Page 200]

    has been raised in the trial court, the trial court has ruled on the merits of the issue, and petitioner has knowingly and understandingly failed to appeal the trial court's ruling; or (2) The Superior Court of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has ruled on the merits of the issue and the petitioner has knowingly and understandingly failed to avail himself of further appeals, or (3) The Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has ruled on the merits of the issue." Act of January 25, 1966, P. L. (1965) 1580, § 4, 19 P.S. § 1180-4 (Supp. 1972).

In Commonwealth v. Black, 433 Pa. 150, 249 A.2d 561 (1969), we held that the finally litigated provision of Section 4 of the PCHA precludes relitigation of an issue which had been decided on the merits in a previous, counseled petition filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Hearing Act, Act of January 25, 1966, P. L. (1965) 1580, §§ 1 et seq., 19 P.S. §§ 1180-1 et seq. (Supp. 1972). See also Commonwealth v. Hill, 444 Pa. 75, 77, 279 A.2d 170, 172 (1971).

Here, the second and present (1970) PCHA petition merely repeats the precise claim which was asserted in the 1966 petition and which was dismissed as "utterly without merit." That decision on the 1966 petition, which was appealed to both the Superior Court and this Court, was a "rul[ing] on the merits of the issue". Act of January 25, 1966, P. L. (1965) 1580, § 4, 19 P.S. § 1180-4 (Supp. 1972). Thus, the voluntariness of appellant's guilty plea was "finally litigated" within the meaning of Section 4 of the PCHA. What we said in Commonwealth v. Slavik, 449 Pa. 424, 297 A.2d 920 (1972), is equally applicable to this appellant and is conclusively dispositive of his claim for relief: "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

[ 450 Pa. Page 201]

    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." Id. at 432, 297 A.2d at 924.

Order affirmed.

Disposition

Order affirmed.


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