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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. LLOYD MINOR (03/17/76)

SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: March 17, 1976.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT,
v.
LLOYD MINOR

COUNSEL

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]

OPINION OF THE COURT

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.

I.

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 the nature of the charges . . . ."

Commonwealth v. Ingram, 455 Pa. 198, 201, 316 A.2d 77, 79 (1974).

This conclusion is strengthened by examination of Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 89 S.Ct. 1709, 23 L.Ed.2d 274 (1969), which set forth the constitutional requirements for a valid guilty plea colloquy.*fn5

II.

Boykin plead guilty*fn6 to five counts of common law robbery, and was sentenced, by a jury,*fn7 to death on each of the five counts. On direct appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the judgments and sentences.*fn8 The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed stating: "It was error, plain on the face of the record, for the trial judge to accept [Boykin's] guilty plea without an affirmative showing that it was intelligent and voluntary."*fn9

[ 467 Pa. Page 237]

The Court failed to specify the precise nature of the required showing. It did, however, emphasize the dual nature of a guilty plea as both a waiver of constitutional rights and an admission of criminal conduct. Further, the Court implicitly recognized that the decision to waive constitutional rights depends, in part, upon the defendant's actual knowledge that he committed the crime charged and the facts which the state would have to prove by competent evidence. To ensure that the defendant has the information necessary to decide intelligently how to plead, the Court suggested that an explanation of the elements of the crime charged and how the facts fit that definition was necessary to an intelligent, knowing and voluntary plea:

"'[B]ecause a guilty plea is an admission of all the elements of a formal criminal charge, it cannot be truly voluntary unless the defendant possesses an understanding of the law in relation to the facts.'"

395 U.S. at 243 n. 5, 89 S.Ct. at 1712 n. 5, quoting McCarthy v. United States, 395 U.S. 459, 466, 89 S.Ct. 1166, 1171, 22 L.Ed.2d 418 (1969) (construing Fed.R.Crim.P. 11 requirements for guilty plea colloquy in federal court).

Finally, the Court recognized that the best and surest way to assure both that the defendant's rights are protected and that the plea is validly taken is to make an adequate record at the plea hearing:

"What is at stake for an accused facing death or imprisonment demands the utmost solicitude of which courts are capable in canvassing the matter with the accused to make sure he has a full understanding of what the plea connotes and of its consequence. When the judge discharges that function, he leaves a record

[ 467 Pa. Page 238]

    adequate for any review that may be later sought . . . and forestalls the spin-off of collateral proceedings that seek to probe murky memories."*fn10

Id. at 243-44, 89 S.Ct. at 1712-13.

Boykin has been recognized as requiring an on the record determination that the defendant understood the nature and elements of the charges against him. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted Boykin as holding that:

"an on the record examination conducted by the trial court accepting a guilty plea which includes, inter alia, an attempt by that Court to satisfy itself that the defendant understands the nature of the charges . . . [and] acts sufficient to constitute the offenses for which he is charged . . . is sufficient to insulate the plea [in state court] from subsequent attack in collateral proceedings [in federal court]."

Missouri v. Turley, 443 F.2d 1313 (8th Cir. 1971).*fn11

A commentator writing in the Harvard Law Review stated:

"Thus [the language] 'what the plea connotes' [in Boykin ] . . . seems to refer -- as does Federal Rule 11 -- to an understanding of the nature of the charge itself. The McCarthy Court specified that this rule 11 requirement is satisfied only if the record

[ 467 Pa. Page 239]

    shows that the defendant understands the 'elements' of the crime to which he is pleading guilty. Since it is hard to imagine that any less might satisfy the [ Boykin ] requirement, the constitutional rule [imposed by Boykin ] will probably correspond to rule 11."*fn12

The commentator went on to say that "the court viewed the [defendant's "understanding of the law in relation to the facts"]*fn13 as part of the voluntariness and understanding requirement."*fn14

The law in Pennsylvania before Boykin, and in the rest of the nation after Boykin requires that the defendant understand the elements of the crimes charged. This aspect of Ingram was not a novel development, but rather a statement of established state and federal law.

Because the trial court failed to explain to appellee the nature and elements of the charges against him, and because that failure rendered the plea legally involuntary, we affirm the order of the Superior Court reversing appellee's judgment of sentence.

Order affirmed.

POMEROY, Justice (dissenting).

In my view the standards set forth in Commonwealth v. Ingram, 455 Pa. 198, 316 A.2d 77 (1974), are not applicable to pleas of guilty entered prior to January 24, 1974, the date of the Ingram decision. I am also of opinion

[ 467 Pa. Page 240]

    that the colloquy which was conducted in the case at bar prior to the trial court's acceptance of the appellee's pleas of guilty to aggravated robbery and carrying a concealed weapon complied with the law as it stood prior to Ingram. Hence, I must dissent from the Court's affirmance of the order of the Superior Court reversing the judgments of sentence and remanding the case for trial.*fn1

I.

In Commonwealth v. Ingram, supra, this Court held that a plea of guilty should not be accepted unless the record discloses that "the elements of the crime or crimes charged were outlined in understandable terms."*fn2 Ingram, supra at 204, 316 A.2d at 80. Today the Court concludes that this requirement constituted no new law and therefore that the question of retroactive application of Ingram does not arise. With respect, I disagree.

The Court bases its conclusion that no new law was announced in Ingram primarily upon decisions of this Court*fn3 expressing the view that the trial court should

[ 467 Pa. Page 241]

    ascertain that the defendant understands the nature of the offenses to which he is pleading guilty. The Court's reliance upon these cases is misplaced for two reasons. In the first place, none of the cases cited requires the trial court to put on the record evidence of the defendant's understanding of the nature of the offenses charged. See the opinion of the Court, ante at 348 n. 3. As I read the opinions in those cases, they merely indicate that such an understanding is relevant to the question whether a plea of guilty was intelligently entered, and advise or suggest that showing that the defendant possessed such an understanding may aid in subsequent determinations of the validity of the plea. This reading is supported by the Ingram opinion itself in which the Court stated that our decisions in Commonwealth v. Campbell, and Commonwealth v. Jackson, note 3 supra, merely " imply " that an on-the-record showing of the defendant's understanding of the nature of the charges should be made, and concluded that "[w]e now expressly hold that there is such a requirement." 455 Pa. at 204, 316 A.2d at 80 (emphasis added). In the second place, contrary to what the Court implicitly suggests, the nature of an offense and an outline of its legal elements are not synonymous; the former is much broader and less specific than the latter. I submit that, at least in some situations, an understanding of the nature of an offense may be inferred from knowledge of the name by which it is called and the seriousness of the consequences of being convicted of it, and therefore that such an understanding may exist in the absence of knowledge of the legal elements of the crime. In Commonwealth v. Campbell, 451 Pa. 465,

[ 467 Pa. Page 242304]

A.2d 121 (1973), for example, we found that the defendant understood the nature of voluntary manslaughter even though the trial judge's explanation of voluntary manslaughter was incorrect and that the term "mens rea" had not been explained to the defendant. It is impossible to believe that this conclusion would be reached by the Court today if a post- Ingram plea entered upon an identical record to that in Campbell were to come before it. The reason, I submit, is that Ingram indeed wrought a change in the law governing the validity of guilty pleas.*fn4

In support of the view that Ingram announced no new law, the Court also relies upon the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 89 S.Ct. 1709, 23 L.Ed.2d 274 (1969). In Boykin, the Court had before it a guilty plea which had been entered upon a record which was entirely silent as to the defendant's comprehension of the nature and consequences of his plea. The Court held that, because a guilty plea necessarily involves a waiver of important federal constitutional rights,*fn5 it should not be accepted in the absence of an on-the-record showing that the defendant understands 'what the plea connotes and . . . its consequences." Boykin, supra at 244, 89 S.Ct. at 1712, 23 L.Ed.2d at 280. The Court expressed no view, however, as to what such an on-the-record showing

[ 467 Pa. Page 243]

    should include; nor did it impose any affirmative requirement that the trial court convey any specific information to the accused. Indeed, the federal courts of appeals have repeatedly held*fn6 that Boykin does not require that the trial court inform the defendant of the federal constitutional rights which were enumerated in the Boykin opinion, see note 5 supra. As the Fifth Circuit said in McChesney v. Henderson, 482 F.2d 1101, 1106 (5th Cir. 1973):

"[N]o rule of criminal procedure was mandated by Boykin, and there is no express requirement that specific articulation of the three constitutional rights above mentioned be given to the accused at the time of the acceptance of a plea of guilty, but it is necessary that the record show that the guilty plea was intelligently and voluntarily made."

My reading of Boykin is well summed up by Mr. Justice Roberts in his concurring opinion in Commonwealth v. Godfrey, 434 Pa. 532, 538, 254 A.2d 923, 926 (1971):

"[W]e need never overturn a guilty plea simply because there was no on-the-record inquiry at the time the plea was entered, provided that a subsequent record establishes that the plea is otherwise valid. I do not believe that Boykin in any way compels a contrary result.

" Boykin, as I read it, deals with the following situation: at the outset, the trial judge accepted a guilty plea with absolutely no on-the-record inquiry of the defendant as to whether the plea was knowingly and voluntarily entered. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed,

[ 467 Pa. Page 244]

    with no further record before it, in effect approving this procedure, at least as a matter of state law. The case then moved on to the Supreme Court of the United States where that Court was faced with a guilty plea, apparently held valid under state law, that had no supporting record as to voluntariness. Under these facts, the Supreme Court of the United States had no choice but to reverse and invalidate the guilty plea." (Concurring opinion of Roberts, J., joined by Bell, C. J., and Pomeroy, J.)

Because Boykin is a "silent record" case which imposed no requirements as to the content of guilty plea colloquies, it cannot be authority for the very specific Ingram requirement that the record demonstrate that the elements of each offense charged be explained to the defendant.*fn7

II.

Because I find that Commonwealth v. Ingram, supra, effected a change in the then existing law concerning the acceptance of guilty pleas, it is necessary that I address the question whether Ingram is applicable to cases, such as the one before us, in which pleas of guilty were entered before Ingram was decided.

As part I of this opinion demonstrates, Ingram was not required by federal constitutional law as set forth in Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 89 S.Ct. 1709, 23 L.Ed.2d 274 (1969), by prior decisions of this Court, or by Rule 319(a) of our Rules of Criminal Procedure. While Ingram was no doubt designed to implement and assure compliance with the constitutional requirements as to the voluntariness of guilty pleas, it is most appropriately viewed as a new rule of criminal procedure, in effect an amendment to Rule 319(a), resting for its authority upon our supervisory powers over the courts and law enforcement

[ 467 Pa. Page 245]

    officials of this Commonwealth and adopted through the medium of an opinion rendered in a case on appeal rather than by the normal rule making procedures of the Court. See Article V, Section 10, of the Constitution of Pennsylvania; Commonwealth v. Campana, 455 Pa. 622, 314 A.2d 854 (1974) [addendum opinion to Commonwealth v. Campana, 452 Pa. 233, 304 A.2d 432 (1973)]; Commonwealth v. Milliken, 450 Pa. 310, 300 A.2d 78 (1973). See also Commonwealth v. Futch, 447 Pa. 389, 290 A.2d 417 (1972).

Decisions promulgating rules of procedure adopted under our supervisory powers generally have been applied in a wholly prospective fashion. See Commonwealth v. Jones, 457 Pa. 563, 319 A.2d 142 (1974); Commonwealth v. Milliken, 450 Pa. 310, 300 A.2d 78 (1973); Commonwealth v. Hynd, 230 Pa. Super. 114, 326 A.2d 434 (1974).*fn8 That is, such decisions have been applied only to conduct or proceedings occurring after the respective dates upon which their "rules" have been announced.*fn9 Accordingly, in a long line of cases the Superior Court has unanimously declined to apply Ingram retroactively.*fn10

[ 467 Pa. Page 246]

I agree with these decisions and would therefore hold that Ingram applies only to pleas of guilty entered after January 24, 1974, the date Ingram was decided.*fn11

III.

Prior to this Court's decision in Commonwealth v. Ingram, supra, a guilty plea colloquy was sufficient if it demonstrated that the plea was "voluntarily and understandingly tendered." Pa.R.Cr.P. 319(a).*fn12 In the instant case, the record shows that Minor was informed that he was charged with taking money at knifepoint from the person of one Jack Orgiefsky in a taxicab in Philadelphia, and was advised of the constitutional rights he was waiving by pleading guilty. Minor stated that he knew where he was and what he was doing, that his plea was not induced by threats or promises, and that he was satisfied with the representation of his attorney. Nevertheless, Minor argues, and the Superior Court held, that

[ 467 Pa. Page 247]

    the colloquy was deficient under pre- Ingram law because the record fails to demonstrate that he understood the nature of the charges against him. In my view this argument lacks merit for two reasons. First, before Ingram, there was no requirement that the defendant be informed of the nature of the charges against him. The comment to Rule 319(a) of our Rules of Criminal Procedure and our cases merely recommended that this be done. See Commonwealth v. Campbell, 451 Pa. 465, 467, 304 A.2d 121 (1973). Second, in any event, the record in this case shows that Minor did in fact understand the nature of the charges against him. In the course of the colloquy the trial court asked Minor, "Do you understand the charges which [sic] 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?" Minor responded, "Yes." Although it would have been advisable for the court to state in full the name of the latter offense (carrying a concealed deadly weapon), I cannot say that failure to do so constitutes a fatal defect in the colloquy. The trial judge asked Minor whether he understood the charges against him; there is no reason to assume that the defendant did not respond truthfully. I agree with the following observations in the opinion of Judge Van der Voort, dissenting in the Superior Court:

"[A]ppellant by this question and answer indicated to the hearing judge that he did understand the charges against him. He had skilled counsel and there is no reason to assume that when he says that he did understand the charges against him that he nevertheless did not.

"[T]he fact that the one charge was identified by its initials would be the greater reason for appellant to indicate that he didn't understand that charge if in fact

[ 467 Pa. Page 248]

    he did not." 231 Pa. Super. at 143, 332 A.2d at 497-98 (Dissenting opinion of Van der Voort, J.).

I am satisfied that the colloquy which preceded Lloyd Minor's pleas of guilty was adequate under the law as it stood prior to Ingram. Accordingly, I would reverse the order of the Superior Court which reversed the judgments of sentence.


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