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COMMONWEALTH v. SANTOS (03/16/73)

decided: March 16, 1973.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
SANTOS, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, May T., 1970, No. 21, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Efrain Santos.

COUNSEL

John J. Duffy, for appellant.

R. Samuel McMichael, Assistant District Attorney, with him William H. Lamb, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

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

Author: Nix

[ 450 Pa. Page 493]

The sole question for decision in this appeal is whether the trial court erred in denying appellant's motion to withdraw his plea of guilty.

The facts relevant to the motion to withdraw may be summarized as follows: In May, 1970, appellant, Efrain Santos, was charged with murder. In October of the same year, after meeting with the district attorney and his own counsel, the appellant entered a plea of guilty to voluntary manslaughter which was accepted by the trial court after a determination that Santos possessed both a familiarity with the English language*fn1 and an awareness of the consequences of his plea. Sentencing was deferred pending a presentence investigation.

Prior to the subsequent hearing a petition for leave to withdraw the plea was filed pursuant to Pa. R. Crim. P. 320,*fn2 in which appellant alleged that although the term "voluntary" was used by the court to describe the charge, he thought he was pleading guilty to the crime

[ 450 Pa. Page 494]

    of involuntary manslaughter. Appellant attributes his mistaken impression to either a breakdown in verbal communications due to his limited command of the English language or a misunderstanding of the legal terminology employed by counsel and the court. He asserts that he realized the mistake when he read a newspaper account of the entry of his plea of guilty to the crime of voluntary manslaughter. At the hearing on his motion to withdraw the plea, the appellant consistently maintained that he thought he had pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Nevertheless, the trial court denied his motion and sentenced him to a term of six to twelve years imprisonment. This appeal followed.

We agree with the Commonwealth's general proposition that the grant or refusal of an application for leave to withdraw a guilty plea is within the sound discretion of the trial court. See Commonwealth v. Culbreath, 439 Pa. 21, 264 A.2d 643 (1970); Commonwealth v. Scoleri, 415 Pa. 218, 202 A.2d 521 (1964). However, since guilty pleas involve the simultaneous waiver of so many constitutional rights,*fn3 we have recently emphasized "that a request [to withdraw] made before sentencing . . . should be liberally allowed." Commonwealth v. Forbes, 450 Pa. 185, 190, 299 A.2d 268, 271 (1973).

The trial courts in exercising their discretion must recognize that "'[b]efore ...


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