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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. JAMES MORRIS (10/01/79)

SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: October 1, 1979.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
JAMES MORRIS, APPELLANT

Nos. 242 and 591 January Term, 1977, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence Imposed by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Trial Division, Criminal Section, Imposed on Indictment No. 4093, January Sessions 1966; No. 143, November Sessions, 1968; Nos. 1952-1607, May Sessions, 1970

COUNSEL

Maxwell L. Davis, Joel S. Moldovsky, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Robert B. Lawler, Chief, Appeals Div., Asst. Dist. Atty., Paul S. Diamond, Asst. Dist. Atty., Philadelphia, for appellee.

Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Nix, Manderino and Larsen, JJ. Larsen, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Author: Nix

[ 486 Pa. Page 393]

OPINION

Appellant James Morris pled guilty to offenses arising out of thirteen (13) separate criminal episodes amounting to forty (40) bills of indictment before a court en banc in November, 1970. The charges against appellant included murder, assault with intent to kill, aggravated assault and battery, assault and battery with intent to kill, conspiracy, burglary, aggravated robbery, indecent assault, and various weapons offenses. After the presentation of the testimony, appellant was adjudged guilty of murder of the first degree. Appellant received a sentence of life imprisonment on the murder indictment, and a total minimum sentence of forty-five (45) and one-half years imprisonment and a total maximum sentence of ninety-one (91) years imprisonment on nine (9) other indictments to follow consecutively the life sentence. Sentence was suspended on the remaining indictments. Appellant failed to file post-trial motions or take an appeal from these judgments of sentence.

In November, 1975, appellant filed a petition under the Post Conviction Hearing Act, 19 P.S. ยง 1180-1 et seq., alleging that his trial counsel was incompetent, that his guilty pleas were unlawfully induced, and assertions of denials of his rights against self-incrimination and various other state and federal constitutional guarantees.*fn1 Following an evidentiary hearing, the P.C.H.A. court denied appellant's claim of trial counsel's ineffectiveness but did find that appellant had been denied his appellate rights as defined by Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353, 83 S.Ct. 814, 9 L.Ed.2d 811 (1967).*fn2 Specifically, the court found:

[ 486 Pa. Page 394]

A reading of the transcript renders it abundantly clear that defendant's appellate rights were never fully explained to him. Inter alia, the defendant was not advised that he had the right to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence nor was he fully apprised of his right to appeal with free court-appointed counsel if he could not afford counsel.

The court then granted appellant leave to file a direct appeal nunc pro tunc to this Court from the judgments of sentence. An appeal nunc pro tunc was also taken on the non-homicide judgments to the Superior Court which was consolidated with the present action.

It is clear that the P.C.H.A. court precipitously placed this matter on the appellate level. In Commonwealth v. Bricker, 444 Pa. 476, 478, 282 A.2d 31 (1971), we settled this same question and stated:

We have decided in Commonwealth v. Robinson, 442 Pa. 512, 515 n. 2, 276 A.2d 537 (1971), and Commonwealth v. Harris, 443 Pa. 279, 278 A.2d 159 (1971), that when it is determined that a defendant has not been properly advised of his right of appeal from a judgment of first degree murder following a plea of guilty to murder generally, the proper practice is for the PCHA court to terminate the hearing and remand the case to the trial court to allow the petitioner to file posttrial motions. See also, Commonwealth v. Lowery, 438 Pa. 89, 263 A.2d 332 (1970); Commonwealth v. Faison, 437 Pa. 432, 436 n. 4, 264 A.2d 394 (1970).

In Commonwealth v. Robinson, upon which the Bricker decision relies, this Court stated that the filing nunc pro tunc of post-trial motions, rather than a direct appeal to this Court, was "the preferable practice, since it may narrow the issues on appeal or perhaps obviate an appeal entirely." 442 Pa. 512, 515 n. 2, 276 A.2d 537, 539 n. 2. Moreover, we reject the Commonwealth's bizarre argument that appellant should

[ 486 Pa. Page 395]

    be penalized because he followed the procedure directed by the court below and did not on his own initiative file a petition to withdraw the pleas of guilt.*fn3

Accordingly, we remand this case to the trial court for the filing of post-trial motions. The appellant is to be permitted to file post-trial motions within thirty (30) days from the date of the entry of this order. In the event that the court below dismisses such motion, appellant shall be permitted to file appeals from the judgments of sentence, as though timely filed, in the appropriate courts.*fn4

LARSEN, Justice, dissenting.

I dissent. In Commonwealth v. Robinson, 442 Pa. 512, 276 A.2d 537 (1971), this Court found the nunc pro tunc filing of post-trial motions, rather than a direct appeal, to be a

[ 486 Pa. Page 396]

"preferable practice" because that procedure may serve to narrow the issues or perhaps obviate an appeal entirely. The majority correctly points out that the rule which it invokes is based upon Commonwealth v. Robinson but fails to note that Robinson expresses only a preference for the filing of nunc pro tunc post-trial motions, and that neither of the purposes advanced by Robinson to support this preference will be served by a remand of the instant case.

The only issues raised by appellant are whether the guilty plea colloquy was sufficient to insure a knowing, intelligent and voluntary plea of guilty and whether the record of these proceedings is sufficiently accurate and precise to permit meaningful review. It is difficult to imagine how remanding this case will further narrow these issues. We have received briefs and heard oral arguments on the merits of this case. This case is ripe for our decision.

I would, therefore, decline the Commonwealth's invitation to remand to the court below and would reach the merits of this case.


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