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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. JOHN PAUL MINARIK (03/13/81)

decided: March 13, 1981.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN PAUL MINARIK, APPELLEE



No. 80-1-90, Appeal from an Order dated April 30, 1980 of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Criminal Division at No. 2186 March Term, 1971, granting a petition to withdraw guilty plea and ordering a new trial.

COUNSEL

Robert E. Colville, Dist. Atty., Robert L. Eberhardt, Deputy Dist. Atty., Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Paul Bogdon, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

O'Brien, C. J., Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, and Kauffman, JJ. Roberts, J., files an Opinion concurring in the judgment in which O'Brien, C. J., and Nix, J., join.

Author: Larsen

[ 493 Pa. Page 574]

OPINION

At approximately 3:30 a. m. on February 7, 1971, appellee John Paul Minarik climbed through the window of the second-story bedroom where his former fiancee lay sleeping and, before the eyes of her mother who stood helplessly by, killed her with an ax. Appellee was arrested later that day and was subsequently indicted by a grand jury and charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter. On October 4, 1971, appellee pleaded guilty to murder generally. After a hearing on degree of guilt, the court determined that appellee was guilty of murder of the first degree and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

Almost six years after appellee pled guilty, on May 31, 1977, he petitioned the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County to withdraw his guilty plea. In his petition, appellee alleged 1) that his guilty plea failed to meet procedural requirements which this Court first established in 1974,*fn1 2) that his guilty plea failed to comport with constitutionally required procedures announced by the United States Supreme

[ 493 Pa. Page 575]

Court in 1976,*fn2 and 3) that he was incompetent to plead guilty. On April 30, 1980, three years after the filing of appellee's petition and eight and one-half years after the entry of his guilty plea, the Court of Common Pleas, relying solely upon the first ground alleged, entered an order granting the petition and allowing appellee to withdraw his guilty plea and proceed to a new trial.*fn3 This direct appeal by the Commonwealth followed.

The 12-page guilty plea colloquy between the trial judge and appellee reveals that at the time he pleaded guilty, appellee was 23 years old, had a bachelor's degree in engineering, had begun working toward a master's degree, and was employed as an engineering trainee. During the course of the colloquy the judge informed appellee, inter alia, that he had been charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter; that the purpose of the colloquy was to determine whether he understood the meaning of the charges; that he had been charged with unlawfully and feloniously causing the death of another; that by pleading guilty he was admitting that he was guilty of murder of the second degree; that the Commonwealth had the burden of proving that the murder was wilful, deliberate and premeditated in order to raise the crime to murder of the first degree; and that he had the burden of introducing evidence to lower the degree of the crime to voluntary manslaughter. In response to the judge's questioning, appellee admitted having killed the victim; indicated that he understood everything the judge had told him; stated that he had had adequate opportunity to meet with his counsel and that he was pleased with the representation that counsel provided; and acknowledged that his guilty plea was the product of his own free will. At the conclusion of the colloquy, when the judge asked appellee whether he wished to say anything further, appellee

[ 493 Pa. Page 576]

    responded simply: "My plea was entered voluntarily by myself. I understand."

The first issue we must resolve is whether it was proper to permit appellee to withdraw his guilty plea solely because that plea did not comply with procedures that were instituted more ...


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