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COMMONWEALTH v. TURMAN (09/23/74)

decided: September 23, 1974.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
TURMAN, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County, No. 826 of 1973, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Robert Mark Turman.

COUNSEL

William C. Haynes, for appellant.

Michael H. Ranck, Assistant District Attorney, and D. Richard Eckman, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Watkins, P. J., Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort, and Spaeth, JJ. Opinion by Cercone, J. Spaeth, J., concurs in the result.

Author: Cercone

[ 230 Pa. Super. Page 358]

This appeal arises from appellant's pleas of guilty to four counts of robbery based upon purse-snatchings in the Lancaster vicinity in April of 1973. Appellant now argues that the pleas were invalid since the record of the colloquy below fails to indicate, inter alia, that appellant understood the nature and the elements of the offenses with which he stood charged. In support of this argument appellant cites our Supreme Court's most recent decision in Commonwealth v. Ingram, 455 Pa. 198 (1974).*fn1

Commonwealth v. Ingram involved a guilty plea colloquy conducted on the record by the trial court which the appellant therein alleged to be insufficient (1) to establish a factual basis for the plea, (2) to establish that the appellant understood the charges against him, and (3) to inform the appellant of his right to be presumed innocent. Our Supreme Court had little difficulty in disposing of the third point in noting that our courts have never required that an instruction on the presumption of innocence be given.

[ 230 Pa. Super. Page 359]

The Court also found that the colloquy and testimony amply demonstrated a factual basis for the plea. The Supreme Court then turned to the appellant's remaining allegation of error -- the trial court's failure to explain to appellant the nature and elements of the crime charged. The Court stated that the trial court explained the crime to the appellant in only the most general terms, not sufficient to demonstrate "that the elements of the crime or crimes charged were outlined in understandable terms." Id. at 204. Therefore, if such instructions were necessary, the guilty plea would have been invalid and the appellant would have been entitled to a new trial. After examining two recent cases on that question, which will be fully discussed below, the Court concluded: "Our decisions in Commonwealth v. Campbell [451 Pa. 465 (1973)], and Commonwealth v. Jackson, 450 Pa. 417, 299 A.2d 209 (1973), both of which dealt with extensive colloquies on this point, imply that such examination is mandatory. We now expressly hold that there is such a requirement." Id.

Thus, there can be no doubt that in order for a guilty plea to be valid if tenderd after Ingram, the record must demonstrate, inter alia, that the crime or crimes charged were explained to the accused in understandable terms and that a factual basis for the plea existed. The question before our court today, however, is whether the requirement that the record indicate the accused's understanding of the nature and elements of the crimes charged applies to guilty plea colloquies which occurred prior to the Ingram decision.*fn2 More specifically, the question is whether Ingram should be applied retroactively or, if not, whether

[ 230 Pa. Super. Page 360]

    charged was either accidental or in self defense. The trial court, prior to accepting the proffered plea of guilty, wisely sought to determine that the defendant understood that he was admitting that the killing was willful and intentional, and not in self-defense. In affirming the lower court's acceptance of the defendant's guilty plea following that colloquy, the Supreme Court did not suggest that an explanation of the elements of the crime, and the defenses thereto, was required in every case prior to the acceptance of a guilty plea. Jackson suggests, at most, that when the evidence indicates that a defense to the crime may exist, the trial court is well-advised to ascertain from the defendant that he knows he is admitting that no such defense exists in fact.

Similarly, Commonwealth v. Campbell did not deal with an ordinary guilty plea situation. The issue in that case was whether the trial court's explanation to the defendant of the mental state required for voluntary manslaughter erroneously misled the defendant, thereby vitiating the intelligence of his guilty plea. Once again in affirming the lower court's acceptance of the guilty plea, the Supreme Court did not suggest that the court was required, in every case, to instruct the defendant on the elements and defenses to the crime or crimes charged. That was not the question before the Court. The Supreme Court only suggested that if the ...


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