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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. JOHN R. CONNER (07/07/75)

decided: July 7, 1975.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE,
v.
JOHN R. CONNER, APPELLANT



COUNSEL

John R. Conner, in pro. per. in No. 23.

Nelson M. Galloway, Harrisburg, for appellant in No. 45.

Marion E. MacIntyre, Deputy Dist. Atty., LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Dist. Atty., Harrisburg, for appellee.

Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Jones, C. J., took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Eagen

[ 462 Pa. Page 285]

OPINION OF THE COURT

The appellant, John R. Conner, was convicted by a jury of voluntary manslaughter on June 13, 1969.*fn1 Subsequently, he filed two separate petitions for writs of coram nobis with the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County alleging his conviction was tainted by the use at trial of four prior uncounseled convictions to impeach his credibility as a witness and to enhance his punishment. In each petition Conner sought the grant of a new trial or, in the alternative, a reconsideration of sentence. The lower court, while recognizing the invalidity of the four prior convictions,*fn2 nevertheless denied Conner the requested relief. This one appeal, consolidating the two petitions, followed.

Initially, we note that the common law remedy of coram nobis is not a proper avenue for the relief Conner seeks. Rather, he should have initiated a proceeding under the Post Conviction Hearing Act*fn3 and followed the procedures set forth therein.

By its own terms, the Act "establishes a post-conviction procedure for providing relief from convictions obtained and sentences imposed without due process of law." It "encompass[es] all common law and statutory procedures for the same purpose that exist when this statute takes effect, including habeas corpus and coram nobis." [Emphasis supplied.] 19 P.S. §

[ 462 Pa. Page 2861180]

-2. However, as noted by this Court in Commonwealth v. Sheehan, 446 Pa. 35, 39, 285 A.2d 465, 467 (1971), the intent of the Act "was not to abolish the common law remedies of habeas corpus and coram nobis, but rather to promulgate an exclusive, well-defined procedure for the presentation of those grievances set forth in the Act by an aggrieved person who is under the duress of punishment, whether in prison or on parole or probation." [Emphasis supplied.] Thus, when an individual, like Conner is "incarcerated in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania under a sentence of . . . imprisonment . . . ." 19 P.S. § 1180-3(b), he or she must initiate a proceeding under the Act in order to collaterally attack a conviction. However, inasmuch as the trial court has already given consideration to the merits of Conner's petitions, we believe it would conserve judicial time and avoid further post conviction litigation if we were to presently consider Conner's claims.

In Commonwealth v. Sheehan, supra, a proceeding under the Act was brought challenging the validity of a prior judgment because of facts not before the trial court when the judgment was entered. However, the petitioner in Sheehan was neither incarcerated, on parole or on probation. While recognizing that the petitioner in Sheehan was not eligible for relief under the Act, we nevertheless permitted the petition to be considered and treated as a petition for a writ of coram nobis. In so doing, we adopted the reasoning of the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Morgan, 346 U.S. 502, 74 S.Ct. 247, 98 L.Ed. 248 (1954), that courts should act by whatever procedural channels appear necessary to do justice when the ...


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