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COMMONWEALTH v. LITTLE (01/24/74)

decided: January 24, 1974.

COMMONWEALTH, APPELLANT,
v.
LITTLE



Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Allegheny County, Oct. T., 1969, No. 97, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Robert Little.

COUNSEL

Robert L. Campbell, Assistant District Attorney, with him Robert L. Eberhardt, Assistant District Attorney, and Robert W. Duggan, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellant.

John H. Corbett, Jr., Assistant Public Defender, with him John J. Dean, Assistant Public Defender, and George H. Ross, Public Defender, for appellee.

Bernard J. McGowan, for Cyril H. Wecht, intervenor.

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

Author: Pomeroy

[ 455 Pa. Page 165]

In this case, the Commonwealth has appealed from a final order in a proceeding under the Post Conviction Hearing Act, Act of January 25, 1966, P. L. (1965) 1580, 19 P.S. § 1180-1 et seq. We are obliged to review the hearing judge's conclusion that the court which accepted appellee's guilty plea and handed down his sentence lacked jurisdiction in the case.

Appellee Robert Little was arrested on September 7, 1969 in connection with the death of one Fred Galloway. He was arraigned before Allegheny County Deputy Coroner Michael J. Cassidy on the same day. A preliminary hearing, at which Little appeared with counsel, was held before Deputy Coroner Cassidy on September 11th. Appellee was held for action by the Grand Jury, which returned indictments of murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter. On the advice of counsel, Little entered a general plea of guilty in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division. He was adjudged guilty of murder in the second degree, and was sentenced to imprisonment for not less than ten or more than twenty years. No post-trial motions were filed nor was an appeal taken.

In his PCHA petition, appellee alleged that a statement obtained in the absence of counsel at a time when representation was constitutionally required was introduced in evidence against him; that he was denied his constitutional right to representation by competent counsel; and that his guilty plea was unlawfully induced. The post-conviction court did not pass directly on any of these allegations.*fn1 Instead, it granted the relief

[ 455 Pa. Page 166]

    requested on the basis of certain alleged irregularities in the proceedings prior to the entry of the plea which the court noticed sua sponte. Specifically, the hearing judge found that the proceedings before the deputy coroner were a nullity because coroners had been stripped of their power to act as committing magistrates by the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1968;*fn2 that

[ 455 Pa. Page 167]

    the exercise of this power by coroners offends due process of law and denies defendants equal protection of the laws; that the return of the coroner's inquest was defective, and in any event formed an insufficient basis for an indictment; that the absence of a criminal complaint from the record voided all subsequent proceedings; and that the record failed to show adequate notice to the defendant of the particular grand jury to which his bill of indictment would ...


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