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COMMONWEALTH v. WALTER (04/22/76)

decided: April 22, 1976.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
WALTER, APPELLANT. CURTIN ET AL. APPEALS



Appeals from orders and judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas of Butler County, June T., 1974, No. 36, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. William F. Walter. Appeals of: S. D. Curtin, Marie Curtin, Ralph G. Gilliland, Martha D. Gilliland, R. J. Mion, Kathryn Mion, S. D. Curtin, Adm. of Estate of John P. Curtin, Dec'd.; Ralph G. Gilliland, Adm. of Estate of Gary G. Gilliland, Dec'd.; and Rudolph J. Mion, Sr., Adm. of Estate of Rudolph J. Mion, Dec'd.

COUNSEL

Allen N. Brunwasser, for appellants, petitioners.

Robert F. Hawk, First Assistant District Attorney, and John H. Brydon, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Watkins, P. J., Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort, and Spaeth, JJ. Opinion by Jacobs, J. Dissenting Opinion by Price, J.

Author: Jacobs

[ 240 Pa. Super. Page 435]

These appeals were brought by the parents of two young men who were killed when struck by a car driven by William F. Walter. Two appeals were brought from orders of the lower court denying petitions to replace the district attorney with a private counsel employed by the parents and one appeal was from the judgment of sentence imposed on William Walter. We affirm the lower court's ruling on all these matters.

According to the sketchy facts testified to at the guilty plea hearing in this case, it appears that the defendant, William Walter, was driving north on a highway in Butler County on February 16, 1974. A group of young men were walking north on the opposite side of the highway facing southbound traffic when defendant's car drove into their midst and killed four of them. The defendant was at the scene when the state police arrived, and he stated to them that he did not know how the accident occurred. He also stated he had consumed four beers in the four hours preceding the incident. The police concluded that he was not intoxicated without administering any breath, blood or urine tests. The defendant carried liability insurance for $100,000.00 which, although not adequate, is over the minimum required.

A criminal complaint against the defendant was brought by the investigating state policeman and an indictment was returned for four counts of involuntary manslaughter.*fn1 The parents of one of the victims, who were deeply interested in the prosecution, retained private counsel to participate in the proceedings. Apparently, neither the counsel nor the parents were ever informed of any plea negotiations. On the date set for trial, June 28, 1974, the defendant pled guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter pursuant to the terms

[ 240 Pa. Super. Page 436]

    of a negotiated plea bargain which included, among other things, the agreement that the sentence would not exceed four years probation. The court accepted the plea subject to a presentence investigation and report.

On July 26, 1974, the parents of three victims*fn2 filed a petition, under the criminal caption, term and number of the Walter case, calling for the replacement of the district attorney as provided for by the Act of August 9, 1955, P.L. 323, § 1409, 16 P.S. § 1409*fn3 and asserting that the plea bargain was not justified. It was contended in the petition that the evidence supported conviction on all four counts of involuntary manslaughter and that the maximum penalty of twenty years imprisonment and $40,000.00 fine could be imposed. A motion to dismiss the petition was filed by the district attorney's office, and in response, an answer to the motion was filed by the petitioners. The lower court then entered an order together with a memorandum opinion dated December 2, 1974 denying the petition without conducting a hearing. The petitioners appealed this denial to the Supreme Court and on December 20, 1974 certiorari was filed. On the same day a motion for supersedeas was filed in the lower court which stated that because of the appeal taken by the petitioning parents, the court had no jurisdiction to proceed with the criminal case against William Walter. Also on December 20, a second petition, virtually identical to the first petition but this time on behalf of three fathers as administrators of the victims' estates, was filed.

On December 23, 1974, the court ...


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