Com. v. Jermyn

Decision Date18 January 1995
Citation539 Pa. 371,652 A.2d 821
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Frederic Jacob JERMYN, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

J. Michael Eakin, Dist. Atty., Robert A. Graci, Chief Deputy Atty. Gen., for appellee.

Before NIX, C.J., and FLAHERTY, ZAPPALA, PAPADAKOS, CAPPY, CASTILLE and MONTEMURO, JJ.

OPINION OF THE COURT

PAPADAKOS, Justice.

This is the appeal of Frederic Jacob Jermyn (Appellant) from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County denying his petition to stay execution scheduled for the week of December 6, 1993, on the warrant of the acting Governor of Pennsylvania. 1

On August 16, 1985, following a jury trial, Appellant was convicted of murder of the first degree, arson, and aggravated assault. The convictions arose from the murder of Appellant's mother, Mildred Jermyn, on December 31, 1984. Following a sentencing hearing on August 17, 1985, the jury returned a verdict of death. Post-verdict motions were denied and on April 15, 1986, Appellant was sentenced to death for the first degree murder, to a concurrent ten to twenty years imprisonment for the arson conviction, and to a five to ten year prison term for the aggravated assault to run consecutive to the arson sentence and concurrent with the death sentence. We affirmed Appellant's conviction and death sentence at Commonwealth v. Jermyn, 516 Pa. 460, 533 A.2d 74 (1987).

Subsequently, Appellant filed a motion under the Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), 42 Pa.C.S. § 9541 et seq. After a hearing, the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County dismissed the PCRA petition on July 11, 1991. We affirmed the denial at Commonwealth v. Jermyn, 533 Pa. 194, 620 A.2d 1128 (1993).

On July 14, 1993, Appellant filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States. An execution warrant was issued for Appellant on September 21, 1993, which scheduled Appellant's execution for the week of December 6, 1993.

In response, Appellant filed a plethora of motions in an attempt to postpone his execution. On November 10, 1993, alleging insanity and mental incompetence, Appellant filed an "Application for Court Determination of Defendant's Competency" to determine whether Appellant was competent to be executed. Appellant also filed, on November 19, 1993, an application with the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. On December 1, 1993, Appellant filed a Petition for Stay of Execution with the United States Supreme Court.

Following a competency hearing on November 30 and December 1, 1993, before the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County, the court determined that Appellant comprehends the reasons for and the implications of his death sentence. The court also found Appellant to be capable of participating and assisting in his defense in a meaningful way.

Consequently, on December 2, 1993, the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County denied Appellant's petition for stay of execution, and Appellant immediately filed a Notice of Appeal with the Cumberland County Clerk of Courts. Also on December 2, 1993, Appellant filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus with the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

On December 3, 1993, the District Court stayed Appellant's execution. Then, on December 16, 1993, the District Court dismissed the habeas corpus petition for lack of exhaustion of state remedies, citing the pendency of the appeal of the competency hearing to this Court. On January 10, 1994, the Supreme Court of the United States denied Appellant's Petition for Writ of Certiorari.

Appellant now comes before us in an effort to stay his execution on the grounds of alleged incompetency.

It is well established that the imposition of the death penalty does not violate either the United States or Pennsylvania constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. Commonwealth v. Edwards, 521 Pa. 134, 555 A.2d 818 (1989). The validity of that principle is not implicated in these proceedings.

The Constitution of the United States, however, does forbid the practice of executing individuals who are determined to be insane. Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 106 S.Ct. 2595, 91 L.Ed.2d 335 (1986). In Wainwright, a Florida inmate had been sentenced to death and was awaiting execution. There, the Court concluded that it was abhorrent to execute one "whose mental illness prevents him from comprehending the reasons for the penalty or its implications." Id. 477 U.S. at 417, 106 S.Ct. at 2606.

Consistent with this view, we have ruled that no insane person can be tried, sentenced or executed. Commonwealth v. Moon, 383 Pa. 18, 117 A.2d 96 (1955); Commonwealth v. Patskin, 375 Pa. 368, 100 A.2d 472 (1953); Commonwealth ex rel. Smith v. Ashe, 364 Pa. 93, 71 A.2d 107 (1950). Not surprising, the practice of staying executions of the insane dates back to our English common law. In Moon, we said, quoting Blackstone's Commentaries:

If, after he [the defendant] be tried and found guilty, he loses his senses before judgment, judgment shall not be pronounced; and if after judgment he becomes of nonsane memory, execution shall be stayed; for peradventure, says the humanity of English law, had the prisoner been of sound memory, he might have alleged something in stay of judgment or execution.

Commonwealth v. Moon, 383 Pa. at 23, 117 A.2d at 99-100.

Appellant presents several issues for our review, all of which depend upon the primary issue of whether the lower court applied the appropriate standard in determining that Appellant was competent to be executed.

The lower court, relying on Wainwright, outlined the following standard for determining Appellant's competency to be executed: "The issue to be decided at the hearing is whether any current mental illness of defendant now prevents him from comprehending the reasons for the death penalty or its implications." (Trial Court Opinion p. 5).

Additionally, pursuant to Appellant's request, prior to the hearing, the trial court amended the issue to be determined to include a determination of whether any current mental illness of Appellant now prevents him from participating and assisting in his defense.

Appellant now argues that the lower court applied the wrong standard in determining his competency and that it should have...

To continue reading

Request your trial
15 cases
  • Billiot v. Epps
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Mississippi
    • November 3, 2009
    ...4. California, Idaho, Kansas, New Hampshire and Virginia. 5. Or.Rev.Stat. § 137.463(4) (Westlaw 2009); Commonwealth v. Jermyn, 539 Pa. 371, 376, 652 A.2d 821, 824 (1995). 6. Conn. Gen.Stat. § 54-56d (1991) (Westlaw 2009); Miss.Code Ann. § 99-19-57(2)(b) (1972 & Supp.2009); Mo.Rev.Stat. § 55......
  • Com. v. Jermyn
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • February 25, 1998
    ...competent to be executed pursuant to Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 106 S.Ct. 2595, 91 L.Ed.2d 335 (1986). 9 See Commonwealth v. Jermyn, 539 Pa. 371, 652 A.2d 821 (1995). Subsequently, a Governor's Warrant for Jermyn's execution was issued on July 12, 1995, scheduling Jermyn's execution ......
  • Com. v. Haag
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • October 24, 2002
    ...understand the nature or object of the proceedings against him or to participate and assist in his defense." Id. In Commonwealth v. Jermyn, 539 Pa. 371, 652 A.2d 821, 823 (1995), cert. denied, 515 U.S. 1126, 115 S.Ct. 2285, 132 L.Ed.2d 287 (1995), we recognized that the above-stated compete......
  • Rohan ex rel. Gates v. Woodford
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • June 25, 2003
    ...law) in both relevant respects. See 42 Pa. Cons.Stat. § 9543(a)(3) (restrictions on successive petitions); Commonwealth v. Jermyn, 539 Pa. 371, 652 A.2d 821, 823-24 (1995) (no rational communication requirement). The court did indicate that successive petitions would not be time-barred, see......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT