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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. ARAM CORTINO (07/17/89)

submitted: July 17, 1989.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
ARAM CORTINO, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Post Conviction Relief Act docketed January 27, 1989 in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, Criminal Division, at Nos. 84-5247, B2611910, 85-0122, B4424305.

COUNSEL

Richard H. Pratt, Doylestown, for appellant.

Alan M. Rubenstein, Dist. Atty., Doylestown, for Com., appellee.

Tamilia, Johnson and Hoffman, JJ.

Author: Hoffman

[ 387 Pa. Super. Page 212]

This is an appeal from the order below denying appellant's petition to withdraw his pleas of guilt on separate sets of charges for possession of a controlled substance, 35 Pa.C.S.A. § 780-113, and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, id. Appellant contends that he should be allowed to withdraw his guilty pleas because (1) they were unlawfully induced by ineffective acts of his trial counsel, and (2) his second plea was not entered voluntarily, knowingly or intelligently. For the reasons that follow, we disagree, and accordingly, affirm the order below.

On February 20, 1985, appellant entered a guilty plea before the Honorable William Hart Rufe, III, to charges of possession and possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance. Sentence was deferred pending a pre-sentence investigation. Pursuant to a plea bargain arrangement, on March 26, 1985, appellant entered a guilty plea before the Honorable Kenneth G. Biehn on charges of possession and possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance. Those charges were unrelated to those heard by Judge Rufe. On this date, after a colloquy, Judge Biehn imposed sentence on both sets of charges. The aggregate sentence was five-to-ten years imprisonment.

On April 8, 1985, appellant filed a motion to challenge his guilty pleas.*fn1 Judge Biehn having recused himself, the Honorable Isaac S. Garb presided over the hearing on

[ 387 Pa. Super. Page 213]

    appellant's motion, which he then denied on May 31, 1985. Subsequently, appellant filed his pro se petition for relief under the Post Conviction Hearing Act ("PCHA").*fn2 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 9541-9551 (repealed). A hearing on the petition was held on January 5, 1989, before Judge Biehn. Trial counsel testified at the hearing, and relief was denied by Order dated January 27, 1989. This appeal followed.

Appellant first contends that his counsel was ineffective because he induced appellant to plead guilty. Specifically, appellant alleges that counsel was ineffective in "condoning or acquiescing in an agreement for [appellant] to accept culpability that did nothing to advance his client's interests but only served to advance a co-defendant's interest, to [appellant's] detriment." Appellant's Brief at 8. When confronted with a claim of ineffectiveness of counsel, a reviewing court must consider three factors:

We inquire first whether the underlying claim is of arguable merit; that is, whether the disputed action or omission by counsel was of questionable legal soundness. If so, we ask whether counsel had any reasonable basis for the questionable action or omission which was designed to effectuate his client's interest. If he did, our inquiry ends. If not, the appellant will be granted relief if he also demonstrates that counsel's improper course of conduct worked to his prejudice, i.e., had an adverse effect upon the outcome of the proceedings. Commonwealth v. Pierce, 515 Pa. 153, 527 A.2d ...


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