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COMMONWEALTH v. MARSHALL (11/26/73)

decided: November 26, 1973.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
MARSHALL, APPELLANT



Appeal from order of Superior Court, Oct. T., 1970, No. 1088, affirming the order of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Oct. T., 1959, Nos. 2277 to 2286, inclusive, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Clarence Marshall.

COUNSEL

Rudolph S. Pallastrone, for appellant.

Maxine J. Stotland 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 and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Manderino. Mr. Chief Justice Jones dissents. Mr. Justice Nix took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Manderino

[ 454 Pa. Page 414]

The appellant on June 29, 1960, pleaded guilty to five counts of robbery, three counts of rape, one count of indecent assault, and one count of aggravated assault and battery. No inquiry was made of the appellant to determine whether the guilty pleas were knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. On July 1, 1960, the appellant was sentenced to a total of thirty to eighty years imprisonment.

Post-trial motions were not filed. In 1968, a petition was filed under the Post Conviction Hearing Act (PCHA), Act of January 25, 1966, P. L. 1580, §§ 1-14, 19 P.S. §§ 1180-1 to -14, alleging that the appellant had not been mentally competent at the time he entered his guilty pleas. The PCHA petition was dismissed after a full hearing. The trial court's dismissal was affirmed without opinion in a per curiam order by the Superior Court. Commonwealth v. Marshall, 217 Pa. Superior Ct. 836, 270 A.2d 233 (1970). The petition for allowance of appeal to this Court was then granted.

[ 454 Pa. Page 415]

The trial court stated that one of its reasons for dismissing the PCHA petition was that "the claim that a defendant is not competent to stand trial must be raised at the trial and cannot be the subject of a collateral attack." The trial court cited Commonwealth ex rel. McNeair v. Banmiller, 391 Pa. 119, 137 A.2d 454 (1958), which involved a habeas corpus proceeding and was decided prior to the PCHA. Under the PCHA, however, "[a] plea entered by a defendant without the mental capacity to understand his position is not a knowingly and intelligently entered plea, and is therefore subject to collateral attack." Commonwealth v. Abel, 438 Pa. 423, 424, 265 A.2d 374, 374-75 (1970); see Commonwealth v. Harris, 431 Pa. 114, 243 A.2d 408 (1968). Therefore, the question of the appellant's mental capacity to enter the guilty pleas was properly raised in his PCHA petition.

Although the trial court erroneously held that the issue of appellant's mental competency to plead guilty was not properly before the court, it did conclude from the record that the appellant had been mentally competent to plead guilty. We cannot agree with that conclusion because an examination of the record convinces us that the appellant was not mentally competent at the time he entered his pleas of guilty. The test for determining a person's mental competency to enter a guilty plea is: ". . . did he have sufficient ability at the pertinent time to consult with his lawyers with a reasonable degree of rational understanding, and have a rational as well as a factual understanding of the proceedings against him." Commonwealth v. Harris, 431 Pa. 114, 117, 243 A.2d 408, 409 (1968). We conclude on the record before us that the appellant, because of a psychotic condition, was not, under the above test, reasonably able to consult with his lawyer at the time he entered his guilty pleas.

[ 454 Pa. Page 416]

The conclusion of the trial court that the appellant was mentally competent at the time of his guilty pleas was based primarily on two items in the record: (1) The first sentence of a psychiatric report written on November 9, 1959, about eight months before the guilty pleas, which stated "[t]he neuropsychiatric examination reveals no evidence of mental disease or of organic nervous disease." (2) The testimony of the appellant's original trial counsel at the PCHA hearing, from which the trial court concluded "that [the trial counsel] felt confident that defendant knew and understood the nature and consequences of his action, that his answers were responsive and that he did not discern any mental illness which would render defendant incompetent either to stand trial or to enter a guilty plea." Viewed in the context of the total record, however, these two items of evidence do not support the conclusion that appellant was mentally competent at the time of the guilty pleas. A full recital of the facts is necessary.

The appellant at the time of the offenses was nineteen and unmarried. He was the twentieth of twenty-four children and had had an unstable family life. His childhood was spent in Florida during which time he was subjected to abuses by his father. His family moved to Philadelphia. In 1957, he was incarcerated for a conviction in Florida. In 1959, when paroled by the Florida authorities, he joined his family in Pennsylvania. On October 17, 1959, the appellant was arrested for the crimes involved in this appeal and was incarcerated in the Moyamensing Prison from the time of his arrest until his sentencing on July 1, 1960. Shortly after his arrest, the appellant's sister retained counsel for the appellant. During the next nine months counsel conferred with ...


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