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COMMONWEALTH v. JOSEPH BLAIR (09/22/80)

decided: September 22, 1980.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
JOSEPH BLAIR, APPELLANT



No. 524 January Term, 1978, Appeal from Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal of Philadelphia, at Nos. 1017-1020 May Term, 1977

COUNSEL

Daniel M. Preminger, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Robert B. Lawler, Chief, Appeals Division, Steven Cooperstein, Philadelphia, for appellee.

Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty and Kauffman, JJ.

Author: O'brien

[ 491 Pa. Page 501]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellant, Joseph Blair, was found guilty of murder of the first degree, aggravated assault, and possession of an instrument of crime. The charges arose out of an incident that occurred in the house of Gorman Keehn in Philadelphia. Appellant, one of five men present in the house, fired two shots. One bullet grazed the head of Joseph Kulda; the other struck and killed Robert Cooper. Following appellant's conviction, trial counsel filed post-verdict motions. Thereafter, new counsel for appellant filed supplemental post-verdict motions, alleging that appellant had been denied his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel at trial. An evidentiary hearing was held on appellant's allegations. Post-verdict motions were denied and appellant was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment on the conviction of murder of the first degree, a concurrent term of imprisonment of two and one-half to five years on the conviction of possession of an instrument of crime, and a consecutive term of imprisonment of five to ten years for aggravated assault. This appeal followed.*fn1 We conclude that the record does not support appellant's allegations. We affirm.

Appellant first contends that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance because he failed to raise the issue of appellant's competence to stand trial. We disagree. It is

[ 491 Pa. Page 502]

    uncontradicted that appellant had a recent history of mental illness prior to the shooting death of Robert Cooper. This fact is not dispositive of this issue, however, as one with a history of mental illness may, at a given time, be competent to stand trial. Commonwealth v. Tyson, 485 Pa. 344, 402 A.2d 995 (1979). Prior to trial, appellant underwent psychiatric evaluation to determine his competency to stand trial. He was first evaluated by a staff member of the Probation Department of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. By report dated May 31, 1977, Francis Hoffman, M.D., stated that appellant knew his attorney and could cooperate with him, that he was oriented to time and place, that he understood the nature of the charges against him, but that he was considered an "explosive personality." For this reason, appellant was ordered to undergo evaluation for sixty days at Holmesburg Prison Forensic Diagnostic Center. Richard Schwartzman, D.O., of the Forensic Diagnostic Center, filed a report dated July 27, 1977, finding appellant competent to stand trial.

Appellant asserts that the medication administered daily by prison doctors should have compelled trial counsel to raise the issue of appellant's competency to stand trial. Initially we note that the administration of medication does not compel the conclusion that appellant was incompetent to stand trial. Indeed, we have held that even where an accused required medication to sustain a level of competency, this factor did not preclude a finding of competency to stand trial. Commonwealth v. Tyson, supra.

Appellant testified at the evidentiary hearing that he never told trial counsel that the medication interfered with his ability to concentrate. Trial counsel testified that prior to trial, upon learning that appellant received medication daily, he contacted Dr. Robert Sadoff, a qualified and practicing psychiatrist who had previously examined appellant. Dr. Sadoff assured trial counsel that the medication, in the doses administered, would not impair appellant's ...


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