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Commonwealth v. Hvizda

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

June 15, 2015

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellant
v.
JAMES JOHN HVIZDA, Appellee

Argued September 10, 2014

Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court at No. 2695 EDA 2012 dated 6/25/13 which vacated and remanded the judgment of sentence of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, at No. CP-15-CR-0001350-2012 dated 8/27/12. Trial Judge: James P. MacElree, President Judge.

For Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, APPELLANT: Nicolas J. Casenta Jr., Esq., Chester County District Attorney's Office, Thomas P. Hogan Jr., Esq., Chester County District Attorney's Office.

For Hvizda, James John, APPELLEE: John R. Merrick, Esq., Nathan Mayer Schenker, Esq., Chester County Public Defender's Office.

BEFORE: CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, MCCAFFERY, STEVENS, JJ. MR. CHIEF JUSTICE SAYLOR[1]. Messrs. Justice Eakin and Baer, Madame Justice Todd and Mr. Justice Stevens join the opinion. Mr. Justice Stevens files a concurring opinion.

OPINION

Page 1104

MR. SAYLOR, CHIEF JUSTICE [1]

The issue presented concerns whether a common pleas court was required to permit withdrawal of a guilty plea, upon the defendant-appellee's assertion of innocence. The appeal is a companion case with Commonwealth v. Carrasquillo, Pa., 115 A.3d 1284 (2015).

Appellee stabbed his estranged wife, Kimberly, to death. He immediately surrendered to police and confessed. Subsequently, he pled guilty to first-degree murder and possession of an instrument of crime. In exchange for the plea, the Commonwealth was to recommend that Appellee would receive the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment for first-degree murder and a consecutive term of incarceration pertaining to the possessory offense.

Just over two months later, when Appellee appeared for sentencing, he advised the common pleas court that he wished to withdraw his plea, stating: " I'm here to maintain my innocence in the charge of murder in the first degree." N.T., July 9, 2012, at 3. His counsel explained:

There needs to be a fair and just reason [in support of a motion to withdraw a plea]. As stated previously in response to Your Honor's inquiry, his fair and just reason is that he maintains his innocence on the charge of first degree murder and possessing an instrument of crime.

Id. at 6. The court listed the matter for hearing.

At the hearing, Appellee again stated that he was innocent, but he offered no evidence. The Commonwealth presented audiotapes of Appellee's telephone conversations from prison, in which he stated that, although he " did it" and knew that he " deserve[d] what [he was] gonna get," he wished to stand trial to " get some of the story out." N.T., Aug. 20, 2012, at 10-11. On this basis, and more generally, the Commonwealth took ...


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