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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. RENE BROCHU (10/06/77)

decided: October 6, 1977.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
RENE BROCHU, APPELLANT



No. 606 October Term, 1977, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Chester County, in Criminal Proceedings Nos. 0863 of 76, 0864 of 76.

COUNSEL

Rene Brochu, in pro. per.

Janet L. Crawford, Assistant District Attorney, and William H. Lamb, District Attorney, West Chester, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Watkins, President Judge, and Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort and Spaeth, JJ.

Author: Hoffman

[ 249 Pa. Super. Page 527]

On July 6, 1976, appellant entered a plea of guilty to charges of burglary, conspiracy, and escape. The court

[ 249 Pa. Super. Page 528]

    accepted the plea and on the burglary charge it sentenced appellant to a one and one-half to four year term of imprisonment, a $10 fine, and the costs of prosecution. On the charge of escape, the court sentenced appellant to pay the costs of prosecution; the court suspended sentence on conspiracy. Appellant did not file a petition to withdraw the guilty plea nor did he take a direct appeal.

On November 12, 1976, appellant filed an uncounselled petition under the Post Conviction Hearing Act.*fn1 He alleged that the lower court abused its discretion in imposing a sentence that was excessive and that the prison authorities denied his constitutional rights when they transferred him from the Chester County Prison Farm to the Dallas Correctional Institution. In his petition, appellant also alleged that he was unable to pay the costs of the proceedings and requested counsel to represent him. On November 15, 1976, the lower court denied the petition without appointment of counsel and without a hearing. This appeal followed.

In appellant's pro se brief to our Court he raises both of the allegations raised below and also asserts that prison authorities abridged his First Amendment right to freedom of religion by forcing him to cut his hair. Appellant alleges that he is a minister in the Universal Life Church and that the dictates of his religion preclude him from cutting his hair.

Without reaching the merits of appellant's substantive claims or indeed, without even determining whether his claims are cognizable in a PCHA proceeding, we hold that the summary dismissal of the petition without appointment of counsel was error. In Commonwealth v. Blair, 470 Pa. 598, 599, 369 A.2d 1153, 1154 (1977) the Supreme Court summarized the applicable law:

"The Post Conviction Hearing Act, [supra] requires the appointment of counsel for indigent petitioners except where the claim is patently frivolous and without trace of support in ...


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