James D. McCrudden, Philadelphia, for appellant.
F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Dist. Atty., Abraham J. Gafni, Deputy Dist. Atty., Steven H. Goldblatt, Asst. Dist. Atty., Chief, Appeals Div., James A. Shellenberger, Philadelphia, for appellee.
Eagen, O'Brien, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Jones, former C. J., took no part in the consideration or decision of this case. Roberts, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of this case. Manderino, J., files a dissenting opinion. Nix, J., dissents.
Appellant, Leon Thomas Garland, was tried by a judge and jury and was convicted of murder of the first degree and conspiracy. Post-verdict motions were denied and appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment and a concurrent prison term of two and one-half to five years. This direct appeal followed.*fn1
The facts of the crime are as follows. According to appellant's confession, in the early evening of August 21, 1973, he was informed that Leroy Skinner, the victim, was standing outside appellant's home in Philadelphia, flicking a knife. Appellant and his co-defendant, Tyrone Pearsall, went looking for the victim and found him standing on 24th Street near Dickerson Street. The victim ran into a bar. As appellant and Pearsall entered the bar, appellant handed a gun to Pearsall, who fired one shot at the victim. As the victim ran out of the bar, both Pearsall and appellant gave chase. Pearsall continued firing at the victim. Appellant then took the gun and fired one shot. Skinner was subsequently pronounced dead at Graduate Hospital. An autopsy revealed that the cause of death was three gunshot wounds to the trunk.
Appellant first argues that the trial court erred in refusing to accept his guilty plea. Trial was commenced on April 18, 1974, with appellant pleading not guilty. After five days of voir dire, a jury was empaneled on April 24, 1974. During the second day of the presentation of the Commonwealth's case, appellant informed the court that he wished to plead guilty to murder generally. A plea agreement had been worked out with the Commonwealth certifying that the degree of guilt was no higher than murder of the second degree. During the colloquy between appellant and his attorney, however, appellant denied that he was guilty of murder. The court refused to accept the proposed
plea and ordered the jury trial to proceed. Appellant argues that this refusal was error. We do not agree.
Rule 319(a) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure states:
". . . A defendant may plead not guilty, guilty, or, with the consent of the court, nolo contendere. The judge may refuse to accept a plea of guilty, and shall not accept it unless he determines after inquiry of the defendant that the plea is voluntarily and understandingly tendered. Such inquiry shall appear on the record." (Emphasis added.)
In addition, the United States Supreme Court, in North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 38, n. 11, 91 S.Ct. 160, 168 n. 11, 27 L.Ed.2d 162 (1970), refused to overturn a guilty plea where the defendant refused to admit guilt. The court went on, however, to state:
"Our holding does not mean that a trial judge must accept every constitutionally valid guilty plea merely because a defendant wishes so to plead. A criminal defendant does not have an absolute right under the Constitution to have his guilty plea accepted by the court, . . . Likewise, the States may bar their courts from accepting guilty pleas from any defendants who assert their innocence."
During the colloquy, the following transpired:
"THE COURT: Well, all I really want to know is if -- I can hear the case that the Commonwealth has now. If there's something he wants to say, that's all right and I'll be glad to listen to it.
"However, I just want to know if he's pleading guilty because he is guilty, under the terms that have been arranged here. Is that why you are pleading guilty, because you are guilty?
"MR. McCURDDEN [Defense attorney]: Is that correct?
"THE COURT: All right. Let's go back to trial. We will go to trial, if there is ...