Joel M. Breitstein, Lebanon, for appellant.
George E. Christianson, Dist. Atty., Thomas S. Long, Lebanon, for appellee.
Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Jones, C. J., and Pomeroy, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.
Following the entry of a guilty plea, appellant Herman Blair was convicted of murder of the second degree and sentenced to eight to sixteen years imprisonment. No direct appeal was taken but thirteen months later a pro se petition for collateral relief was filed under the Post Conviction Hearing Act. Although appellant requested counsel and alleged indigency, the trial court denied his petition without appointing counsel and without holding a hearing. A counseled appeal was then taken to this Court requesting a new trial. In that appeal, appellant raised two arguments: 1) that his guilty plea was accepted without compliance with Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 319(a) and, 2) that appellant was wrongly denied a hearing on his petition. Both of these claims were rejected in a per curiam opinion filed October 3, 1975. See Commonwealth v. Blair, 463 Pa. 383, 344 A.2d 884 (1975).
On October 19, 1976, we granted a Petition for Reargument nunc pro tunc limited solely to the issue of whether the hearing court erred in summarily dismissing appellant's uncounselled PCHA petition. Having reconsidered our decision, we now overrule our prior holding for the reasons which follow.
The Post Conviction Hearing Act, Act of January 25, 1966, P.L. (1965) 1580, 19 P.S. § 1180-1 et seq. (Supp.1976-77) requires the appointment of counsel for indigent petitioners except where the claim is patently frivolous and without trace of support in the record. See 19 P.S. § 1180-12 (Supp.1976-77). Restated, under the Act, the right of the trial court to summarily dismiss an uncounselled petition is contingent upon the substantive claim raised therein. However, this section of the Post Conviction Hearing Act has been superseded by Pennsylvania
Rule of Criminal Procedure 1503 (Adopted January 24, 1968. Effective August 1, 1968).
Under the terms of Rule 1503(a)*fn* the Court is mandated to provide counsel, upon request, in Post Conviction proceedings once petitioner satisfies the Court of his financial inability to obtain counsel. The only exception to this madatory requirement is set forth in Rule 1504 which provides:
"Appointment of counsel shall not be necessary and petitions may be disposed of summarily when a previous petition involving the same issue or issues has been finally determined adversely to the petitioner and he either was afforded the opportunity to have counsel appointed or was represented by counsel in proceedings thereon."
Our prior caselaw has consistently adopted a strict construction of the language of the Rule. As stated in Commonwealth v. Adams, 465 Pa. 389, 350 A.2d 820 ...