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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. James Monroe Baldwin

December 28, 2012

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE
v.
JAMES MONROE BALDWIN, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court entered November 8, 2010 at No. 1897 WDA 2008, affirming the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County entered May 14, 2008 at No. CP-02-CR-0001671- 2006.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Eakin

CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, ORIE MELVIN, JJ.

ARGUED: April 11, 2012

OPINION MR. JUSTICE EAKIN

James Baldwin appeals from the order of the Superior Court affirming his judgment of sentence for first degree murder and abuse of a corpse. Finding the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant's request to testify on his own behalf, after the evidentiary phase of the trial was closed, and after he waived such right the previous day, we affirm.

On January 25, 2006, appellant and his roommate, Brendan Martin, had an altercation when appellant served Martin with a notice to vacate the premises due to Martin's drug use. Martin attempted to hit appellant with a hammer, and appellant attacked Martin with a large knife, fatally stabbing him in the neck and heart. Appellant dismembered the body, placed the parts in five plastic bags, and buried the remains in a shallow, makeshift grave. The next day, a road department employee discovered the grave and alerted police, who found the plastic bags containing the victim's remains, along with a backpack containing a piece of paper with appellant's name on it. Police interviewed appellant, who admitted he attacked the victim and killed him.

Appellant was charged with homicide and abuse of a corpse, and proceeded to a jury trial, at which he asserted an insanity defense. During the Commonwealth's case-in-chief, appellant indicated he wanted to speak with the court and was told he needed to address the court through his attorney. After discussion was held off the record, appellant's counsel informed the court, on the record, that appellant wanted to exert a right of allocution to the jury; counsel indicated he told appellant legal procedure did not permit him to do so, and if appellant wished to address the jury, he would have to take the stand and be subject to cross-examination. Counsel and the court acknowledged appellant would have time to discuss with his attorney whether he wished to take the stand, and there would be a colloquy by the court concerning appellant's right to testify after the Commonwealth rested its case. See N.T. Trial, 2/21/08, at 224-25.

After the Commonwealth rested, appellant's counsel indicated at side-bar that he planned to call his expert as the first witness and did not intend to call appellant to testify. Counsel further inquired when the court wished to conduct the colloquy concerning appellant's waiver of his right to testify. The trial court responded it would probably conduct the colloquy immediately prior to the close of the defense's case, as appellant could change his mind regarding testifying up until the defense rested. See id., at 252-53. After the defense expert testified, the trial court conducted a colloquy with appellant, outside the presence of the jury, concerning his right to testify, as follows:

THE COURT: Mr. Baldwin, I have a couple questions I want to ask you about your decision of whether or not to testify in this trial. It's my understanding that you wish to give up your right to take the stand and testify on your own behalf. I want to ask you a few questions about this decision. Please understand that I am neither encouraging nor discouraging your decision. Do you understand that?

THE DEFENDANT: (Witness nods head.)

THE COURT: I need yes or no for the court reporter.

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

THE COURT: Do you understand that under both the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you have an absolute right to testify on your own behalf.

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

THE COURT: And do you understand that no one can deny you the opportunity to testify on your own behalf?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

THE COURT: Do you also understand that you have an absolute right not to testify on your own behalf?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

THE COURT: Do you understand that no one can force you to testify at your own trial?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

THE COURT: Have you discussed this decision of whether or not to testify with your attorney?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

THE COURT: Having done that, do you wish to testify in this trial?

THE DEFENDANT: I'm not sure.

THE COURT: Okay. Well, I'm going to let you speak to [defense counsel] a little longer.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Can I say something on the record, Your Honor, to maybe clarify that? James, is it your -

THE COURT: Sure.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: James, your desire would be to get up and give a statement; is that correct?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: And in your mind, that was what you would consider testifying?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I explained to you that the rules of procedure, trial procedure would not permit you to do that.

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: So you understand that even though you would want to testify in the form that you want to by just giving a statement, you're not permitted to. You have to answer questions and then would be cross-examined by [the prosecutor]. Do you understand that now?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: So it is my understanding that you do not want to testify under the Rules of Court, that you'd be subject to questions and answers and cross-examination?

THE DEFENDANT: I'm still not sure.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Go on.

THE DEFENDANT: You're - not that you're doing a bad job or anything, but if I fire you, can I make my own closing ...


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