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COMMONWEALTH v. MORALES (10/16/74)

decided: October 16, 1974.

COMMONWEALTH, APPELLANT,
v.
MORALES



Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Aug. T., 1961, No. 1288, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Adolphus Morales.

COUNSEL

David Richman, Assistant District Attorney, with him James A. Shellenberger and Steven H. Goldblatt, Assistant District Attorneys, Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and Arlen Specter, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellant.

Gerald Jay Pomerantz, for appellee.

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

Author: Manderino

[ 458 Pa. Page 19]

Appellee, Adolphus Morales, pleaded guilty on April 9, 1963 to a murder indictment charging him with the fatal shooting of a shoe store owner which occurred during a robbery two years earlier on April 8, 1961. Two days after the guilty plea, on April 11, 1963, appellee was found guilty of murder in the first degree by a three-judge court en banc and received a sentence of life imprisonment. In 1971, appellee petitioned for post-conviction relief and was granted the right to file post-trial motions. The presiding judge of the court en banc was the same judge who had received the appellee's guilty plea and had presided over the court en banc which found the appellee guilty of murder in the first degree in 1963. The 1971 court en banc ordered a new trial after concluding that the appellee's guilty plea in 1963 was not valid since it was not knowingly and intelligently entered. This appeal by the prosecution followed.

The prosecution argues that the evidence in the record does not support the findings of the court en banc. We have examined that evidence and must conclude otherwise. Our scope of review in considering an order granting a new trial is limited. Even though the

[ 458 Pa. Page 20]

    evidence in the record may be conflicting, the law is well-settled that a grant or denial of a motion for a new trial will not be reversed unless there has been a clear abuse of discretion or an error of law. Commonwealth v. Jones, 455 Pa. 488, 317 A.2d 233 (1974); Commonwealth v. English, 446 Pa. 161, 163, 279 A.2d 4 (1971).

The court en banc found that the appellee, at the time of his guilty plea, did not understand the significance of his act because of mental illness, low intelligence, ignorance of the English language, lack of advice concerning the criminal charges and available defenses, and lack of familiarity with the judicial system. Since there is evidence in the record to sustain all of these findings, the order granting a new trial must be affirmed. A guilty plea constitutes a waiver of constitutional rights, and if one does not understand those rights or the consequences of waiving those rights, the plea cannot stand. Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 23 L.Ed.2d 274, 89 S. Ct. 1709 (1969). See also Commonwealth v. Enty, 442 Pa. 39, 271 A.2d 926 (1971); Commonwealth v. Cushnie, 433 Pa. 131, 249 A.2d 290 (1969).

The record contains the following evidence which sustains the findings of the court en banc. The appellee, who was twenty-nine years of age at the time he entered his guilty plea, had a fourth grade intelligence level. He was arrested in April of 1961, immediately after an alleged robbery of a shoe store during which one of the store owners was shot and killed by the appellee. Shortly after his arrest, he was placed in the prison section for the mentally disturbed. He remained there until he was transferred several months later by court order to a state mental hospital. A year later, he was returned to prison and again was immediately placed in the prison section for the mentally disturbed. He remained there until the time of his plea of guilty of April 9, 1963.

[ 458 Pa. Page 21]

During the two-year incarceration prior to his trial, appellee was subjected on various occasions to psychiatric examinations which indicated a serious mental disturbance. There was evidence that one month after the appellee's arrest he was psychotic and needed hospitalization. He was then described, after a psychiatric examination, as "indeed insane." The court en banc noted that a report of a psychiatric examination conducted two months before the guilty plea, spoke of the appellee's ". . . very depressed state, inability to relate his circumstances verbally, inability to test reality adequately, experience of both audio and visual hallucinations, florid depressed state, feeling of pressure in the head, intractable insomnia, lack of appetite, desire to die, hypochondrical ideas of delusional proportions and paranoid ideation." About six months before appellee's plea, defense counsel represented to the ...


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