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decided: March 17, 1976.



F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Dist. Atty., Steven H. Goldblatt, Asst. Dist. Atty., Chief, Appeals Div., James A. Shellenberger, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Edward Griffith, Philadelphia, for appellee.

Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Jones, C. J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case. Pomeroy, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which Eagen, J., joins.

Author: Roberts

[ 467 Pa. Page 231]


On July 4, 1971, appellee Lloyd Minor was arrested and charged with aggravated robbery and carrying a concealed deadly weapon. On June 19, 1972, his pleas of guilty to both charges were accepted. During the colloquy

[ 467 Pa. Page 232]

    which preceded the pleas, there was no explanation of either the elements which made out the crimes charged or of the relationship of the facts of appellee's case to those definitions. The only mention of the charges at the guilty plea hearing was:

"Q. [by defense counsel] Do you [Minor] understand the charges which you appear at the bar of the Court to wit: Aggravated Robbery and C.C.D.W., that you have an absolute right to have this matter heard by a jury?

A. [by Minor] Yes."

Following imposition of sentence, appellee appealed to the Superior Court, alleging that the failure to explain the elements of the crimes charged rendered the pleas unknowing and unintelligent. That court reversed the judgment of sentence, finding appellee's contention to be meritorious. The Superior Court, however, reversed not because the colloquy failed to satisfy Commonwealth v. Ingram, 455 Pa. 198, 316 A.2d 77 (1974), decided after appellee's guilty plea was accepted, which requires that the elements of the crimes charged be explained to a defendant who is about to plead guilty, but because the plea colloquy failed to satisfy pre- Ingram standards and rule 319(a).*fn1

The Commonwealth requested and was granted permission to file an appeal*fn2 to this Court to determine (1)

[ 467 Pa. Page 233]

    whether Ingram controlled appellee's case, (2) if Ingram did not control appellee's case, whether the plea colloquy satisfied pre- Ingram standards, and (3) what the remedy should be if it is determined that a plea colloquy is inadequate to show a valid guilty plea. The issue has resolved itself to whether Ingram announced new law. We hold that it did not and, therefore, find that pre- Ingram and post- Ingram standards for guilty plea colloquies are the same. Accordingly, we affirm the order of the Superior Court reversing appellee's judgment of sentence.


In Pennsylvania, even before we decided Ingram, it has been the law that an understanding of the elements of the offense charged is necessary to an intelligent, knowing and voluntary guilty plea.

In United States ex rel. McDonald v. Pennsylvania, 343 F.2d 447, 451 (3d Cir. 1965), the third circuit stated that in Pennsylvania "the question whether the plea of guilty is voluntarily and intelligently made can only be determined if it is shown on the record what comprehension the accused had of the nature and elements of the charge against him . . . ."

In Commonwealth ex rel. West v. Rundle, 428 Pa. 102, 237 A.2d 196 (1968), we suggested that trial courts make

[ 467 Pa. Page 234]

    a record which adequately reflects, inter alia, the defendant's understanding of the offense charged.*fn3 Since that decision we have frequently indicated that such an understanding is essential to a valid guilty plea. See Commonwealth v. Cushnie, 433 Pa. 131, 134-36, 249 A.2d 290, 292 (1969) (listing defendant's knowledge of elements of crime as aspect of voluntariness of plea); Commonwealth v. Enty, 442 Pa. 39, 40, 271 A.2d 926, 927, cert. denied, 402 U.S. 913, 91 S.Ct. 1396, 28 L.Ed.2d 656 (1971) ("understanding of the nature of the charges" an aspect of voluntariness); Commonwealth v. Belgrave, 445 Pa. 311, 317, 285 A.2d 448, 450 (1971) (quoting Enty); Commonwealth v. Jenkins, 449 Pa. 398, 296 A.2d 926 (1972) (Court satisfied itself that defendant knew elements of both crime charged and other forms of homicide in sustaining voluntariness of guilty plea); Commonwealth v. Maddox, 450 Pa. 406, 412, 300 A.2d 503, 506 (1973) ("Review of the record satisfies us that the appellant was aware of the nature of the offense with which he was charged and that he understood that his acts constituted that offense"); Commonwealth v. Jackson, 450 Pa. 417, 419, 299 A.2d 209, 210 (1973) ("Review of the colloquy . . . satisfies us that the trial judge properly determined that appellant pleaded guilty with an understanding of the nature of the charge and how his acts constituted the offense with which he was charged"); Commonwealth v. Campbell, 451 Pa. 465, 468, 304 A.2d 121, 122 (1973) ("The crucial elements of the offense . . . were sufficiently conveyed to appellant"); Commonwealth v. McNeil, 453 Pa. 102, 106, 305 A.2d 51, 54 (1973) ("The guilty plea colloquy must be considered in light of the overall objective which is to ensure that the plea is made with an understanding of the charge and an awareness of its consequences").

[ 467 Pa. Page 235]

These cases demonstrate that the defendant's understanding of the nature and elements of the charges against him has long been an essential part of a valid guilty plea in Pennsylvania. In this respect Ingram cannot be said to be new law.*fn4 A reading of Ingram itself reveals that it was not, and was not intended to be, a statement of new law:

"The revised comments to Rule 319, paragraph (a), specifically recommend that [appellant understand the nature of the charges to which he pleaded guilty as one of] three points [to] be among those 'minimum' points covered in the examination of the defendant. While we have not yet voided a plea because the presumption of innocence was not mentioned to a defendant, we have indicated that a factual basis for the plea must be demonstrated and that the defendant must understand the nature of the charges to which he is pleading. See Commonwealth v. Campbell, . . .; Commonwealth v. Jackson, . . .; Commonwealth v. Maddox, . . . . This is consistent with the comment to paragraph (a) of Rule 319 which suggests that the rule was intended to codify the 'preferred practice' suggested by our decisions in Commonwealth ex rel. West v. Rundle, . . . and Commonwealth v. Belgrave, . . . . This 'preferred practice' (which is now 'mandatory practice' under Rule 319) was that the trial court should 'conduct an on the record examination

[ 467 Pa. Page 236]

    of the defendant which should include, inter alia, an attempt to satisfy itself that the defendant understands ...

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