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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. CARL MELTON (01/29/76)

decided: January 29, 1976.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
CARL MELTON, APPELLANT



COUNSEL

Louis M. Natali, Jr., Philadelphia, for appellant.

F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Dist. Atty., Richard A. Sprague, First Asst. Dist. Atty., Steven H. Goldblatt, Asst. Dist. Atty., Chief, Appeals Div., Mark Sendrow, Asst. Dist. Atty., Asst. Chief, Appeals Div., Philadelphia, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Roberts, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which Nix and Manderino, JJ., join.

Author: Pomeroy

[ 465 Pa. Page 532]

OPINION OF THE COURT

This is an appeal from the order of the court below entered after an evidentiary hearing denying appellant relief*fn1 under the Post Conviction Hearing Act ("P.C.H.A.").*fn2 The hearing was held pursuant to our decision of November 17, 1972, wherein we reversed the order of the trial court dismissing appellant's P.C.H.A. petition without a hearing. 449 Pa. 223, 296 A.2d 727 (1972).*fn3

[ 465 Pa. Page 533]

This case arose from the killing of one Rose Schloss during the course of a robbery at her home on December 13, 1958 perpetrated by Melton and a co-defendant. Appellant was brought to trial before a jury and was convicted of murder in the first degree. Sentence was set at death. Melton's motion for a new trial was granted by the court of common pleas and the Commonwealth's appeal from the new trial order was dismissed. 402 Pa. 628, 168 A.2d 328 (1961). On retrial the appellant pleaded guilty to murder generally and after a degree of guilt hearing the court en banc determined that the killing rose to murder in the first degree and the death penalty was again imposed. Appellant thereupon exhausted his direct appeal and habeas corpus remedies. The instant proceeding under the P.C.H.A. followed.

In this collateral attack on the judgment against him, Melton raised three issues, all relating to whether his guilty plea was valid. The same issues are pressed on appeal. First, Melton claims that he lacked sufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent guilty plea; second, he alleges that his guilty plea was primarily motivated by an involuntary confession; and third, appellant maintains that his guilty plea was induced by his fear that the death penalty would be imposed upon him if he chose to be tried by a jury because of the allegedly unconstitutional jury selection procedure prevailing at the time of the entry of the plea. After careful consideration,

[ 465 Pa. Page 534]

    we have concluded that all of these arguments are without merit.

(1) Appellant's first argument is premised to a large degree on our decision in Commonwealth v. Harris, 431 Pa. 114, 243 A.2d 408 (1968), in which we invalidated a guilty plea entered by a defendant with an I.Q. of 49 and a mental age of 8, who lacked the ability "'to think intellectually in any decree'". 431 Pa. at 118, 243 A.2d at 410. Melton claims that, because there was evidence that his own I.Q. was approximately 69 and that he too had the mentality of an 8 or 9 year old, his guilty plea, like that of Harris, must be considered a nullity. Appellant misreads our holding in Harris. We did not there establish a per se rule invalidating every guilty plea made by a defendant who was in some way mentally deficient. Instead, we reiterated that "'[t]he test to be applied in determining the legal sufficiency of [a defendant's] mental capacity to stand trial, or enter a plea at the time involved, is not the M'Naghten "right or wrong" test, but rather his ability to comprehend his position as one accused of murder and to cooperate with his counsel in making a rational defense.'" 431 Pa. at 116-17, 243 A.2d at 409. (emphasis added). See also Commonwealth v. Marshall, 454 Pa. 413, 312 A.2d 6 (1973); Commonwealth v. Miller, 454 Pa. 67, 309 A.2d 705 (1973).

Under this standard, there is no doubt of appellant's ability to enter an intelligent guilty plea. Unlike the record in Harris, there is nothing here to establish that Melton lacked the "ability 'to think intellectually in any degree.'" Indeed, the evidence is to the contrary. At the degree of guilt hearing following appellant's plea, Dr. John G. Torney, a court-appointed psychiatrist, testified that appellant was mentally competent. At the P.C.H.A. hearing, appellant's counsel at the ...


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