Com. v. McGrogan

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtRobert W. Duggan, Dist. Atty., Carol Mary Los; Before JONES; ROBERTS; MANDERINO; MANDERINO
Citation449 Pa. 584,297 A.2d 456
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Robert E. McGROGAN, Appellant.
Decision Date30 November 1972

Page 456

297 A.2d 456
449 Pa. 584
COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania
v.
Robert E. McGROGAN, Appellant.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Nov. 30, 1972.

[449 Pa. 585]

Page 457

John J. Dean, John R. Cook, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Robert W. Duggan, Dist. Atty., Carol Mary Los, J. Kent Culley, Asst. Dist. Attys., Pittsburgh, for appellee.

[449 Pa. 584] Before JONES, C.J., and EAGEN, O'BRIEN, ROBERTS, POMEROY, NIX and MANDERINO, JJ.

[449 Pa. 585] OPINION OF THE COURT

ROBERTS, Justice.

Appellant Robert E. McGrogan was tried by a jury in Allegheny County and found guilty of second degree murder. Post-trial motions were denied and he was sentenced to serve a term of not less than ten nor more than twenty years. Appellant's sole contention in this direct appeal is that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter. We affirm.

Appellant places principal reliance on the maxim that '(w)here there is some evidence which would reduce the crime to voluntary manslaughter, defendant is entitled to have the jury instructed upon the subject.' 1 Although conceding that he neither admitted the slaying nor introduced evidence tending to establish[449 Pa. 586] self-defense 2 or passion and provocation, 3 appellant argues that the factual basis for voluntary manslaughter here was established inferentially by the Commonwealth's evidence. 4 We need not, however, respond to appellant's argument, because we find the record clearly evinces that as part of his trial strategy appellant decided to forego the possibility of the jury returning a verdict of voluntary manslaughter.

It is, of course, firmly embedded within our system of criminal justice that certain decisions during trial are within the exclusive province of counsel. For instance, in the seminal case of Henry v. Mississippi, 379 U.S. 443, 85 S.Ct. 564, 13 L.Ed.2d 408 (1965), the United States Supreme Court acknowledged that the decision of whether to contemporaneously object to admission of evidence was one calling for the expertise and experience of [449 Pa. 587] counsel, and that a failure to object at trial

Page 458

may constitute a 'deliberate bypass' precluding the defendant from obtaining relief in the federal courts. Id. at 451--452, 85 S.Ct. at 569. 5

The ABA Standards for Criminal Justice urge that '(t)he lawyer should seek to maintain a cooperative relationship at all stages, While maintaining also the ultimate choice and responsibility for the strategic and tactical decisions in the case.' 6 The progeny of Henry, as well as decisional law predating Henry, have delineated the type of 'strategic and tactical decisions' which must 7 be exercised by defense counsel alone. [449 Pa. 588] Courts have held that such tactical decisions as whether to make a summation, 8 whether to request instructions, 9 whether to make a motion for change of venue, 10 whether to challenge hearsay statements, 11 and many others 12 are decisions to be made by defense counsel.

[449 Pa. 589]

Page 459

The decision of whether to request a charge on voluntary manslaughter is clearly a matter of trial strategy that calls for the 'ultimate choice and responsibility' of defense counsel. If no charge on voluntary manslaughter is requested, the effect is to limit the jury's options to either returning first or second degree murder or outright acquittal. The nature of the decision is such that 'only trained experts can comprehend (its) full significance.' 13 If, as a matter of constitutional law, trial strategy may govern the decision of whether to object to illegally obtained evidence, Henry, supra, a fortiorari the state created substantive right of a charge on voluntary manslaughter is similarly a matter for trial strategy. 14

[449 Pa. 590] Turning our focus to the record, it clearly establishes that as a matter of trial strategy counsel sought to limit the jury's options to either finding first or second degree murder or outright acquittal. The evidence of the Commonwealth, although substantial, was somewhat conflicting as to appellant's actual conduct at the time of the slaying. Appellant's counsel could have reasonably decided that the jury might find the Commonwealth's evidence inconclusive and thus return a verdict of outright acquittal.

A colloquy between defense counsel and the court during the course of the trial further indicates the nature of counsel's trial strategy. The court expressed a desire

Page 460

to know whether appellant was seeking to establish a basis for self-defense and the following colloquy ensued:

'THE COURT: Do I understand you intend to make a defense of self-defense in this case? Is that what you are trying to lead up to?

'MR. VILLAGE: No, your Honor.

'THE COURT: Then self-defense isn't what you intend to do?

'MR. VILLAGE: Not as far as I can determine at this time.'

At the conclusion of the trial appellant neither requested a charge [449 Pa. 591] on voluntary manslaughter 15 nor did he interpose an objection when the court instructed the jury it could not return a verdict of voluntary manslaughter. 16

The record amply supports the conclusion that as part of his evaluation of the Commonwealth's evidence trial counsel decided to forego a defense of self-defense and charge on voluntary manslaughter. Trial counsel did not either during cross-examination or through defense witnesses attempt to establish self-defense or any basis for voluntary manslaughter. Instead his trial strategy was to seek outright acquittal on the ground that appellant did not commit or participate in the slaying. In the face of trial counsel's considered choice, made with a 'reasonable basis', to limit the jury's options, the trial court did not err in its charge. See Commonwealth ex rel. Washington v. Maroney, supra at fn. 14. And, as the Supreme Court appropriately noted in Henry, when for some reason counsel's deliberate trial strategy 'backfires', the failure of the strategy cannot form the basis for relief upon review. Id. at 451, 85 S.Ct. at 569; Commonwealth ex rel. Washington v. Maroney, supra at fn. 14.

The judgment of sentence is affirmed.

[449 Pa. 584] MANDERINO, J., filed a concurring opinion.

[449 Pa. 591] MANDERINO, Justice (concurring).

I concur in the affirmance of the judgment of sentence even though the trial court committed error in charging the jury by failing to instruct on voluntary manslaughter for the reasons expressed in my Concurring Opinion in Commonwealth v. Amato, Pa., 297 A.2d 462 (1972).

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1 Commonwealth v. LaRue, 381 Pa. 113, 121, 112 A.2d 362, 367 (1955); Commonwealth v. Matthews, 446 Pa. 65, 285 A.2d 510 (1971) (Roberts, J. and Pomeroy, J. dissented on other grounds); Commonwealth v. Corbin, 432 Pa. 551...

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10 practice notes
  • Commonwealth of Pa. v. Smith
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • March 29, 2011
    ...strategic and tactical decisions are the exclusive province of the lawyer after consultation with his client); Commonwealth v. McGrogan, 449 Pa. 584, 297 A.2d 456 (1972) (“[C]ertain decisions during trial are within the exclusive province of counsel.”). However, “[t]he right to representati......
  • Com. v. Roundtree
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 20, 1976
    ...our criminal justice system 'that certain decisions during trial are within the exclusive province of counsel.' Commonwealth v. McGrogan, 449 Pa. 584, 297 A.2d 456 (1972). In cases of this nature we are required to make an independent review of the entire record and an examination of counse......
  • Com. v. Stewart
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • July 23, 1982
    ...Cir. 1942) (confrontation of witnesses); Commonwealth v. Petrillo, 340 Pa. 33, 16 A.2d 50 (1940) (same). Cf. Commonwealth v. McGrogan, 449 Pa. 584, 588 nn. 8-12, 297 A.2d 456, 458 nn. 8-12 (1972). See generally Sandalow, Henry v. Mississippi and the Adequate State Ground: Proposals for a Re......
  • Com. v. McCloskey
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • March 30, 1995
    ...of returning a verdict of involuntary manslaughter; counsel not ineffective for declining the charge); Commonwealth v. McGrogan, 449 Pa. 584, 297 A.2d 456 (1972) (counsel not ineffective for declining voluntary manslaughter charge/claim of self-defense in attempt to gain outright acquittal)......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
10 cases
  • Commonwealth of Pa. v. Smith
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • March 29, 2011
    ...strategic and tactical decisions are the exclusive province of the lawyer after consultation with his client); Commonwealth v. McGrogan, 449 Pa. 584, 297 A.2d 456 (1972) (“[C]ertain decisions during trial are within the exclusive province of counsel.”). However, “[t]he right to representati......
  • Com. v. Roundtree
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • October 20, 1976
    ...our criminal justice system 'that certain decisions during trial are within the exclusive province of counsel.' Commonwealth v. McGrogan, 449 Pa. 584, 297 A.2d 456 (1972). In cases of this nature we are required to make an independent review of the entire record and an examination of counse......
  • Com. v. Stewart
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • July 23, 1982
    ...Cir. 1942) (confrontation of witnesses); Commonwealth v. Petrillo, 340 Pa. 33, 16 A.2d 50 (1940) (same). Cf. Commonwealth v. McGrogan, 449 Pa. 584, 588 nn. 8-12, 297 A.2d 456, 458 nn. 8-12 (1972). See generally Sandalow, Henry v. Mississippi and the Adequate State Ground: Proposals for a Re......
  • Com. v. McCloskey
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • March 30, 1995
    ...of returning a verdict of involuntary manslaughter; counsel not ineffective for declining the charge); Commonwealth v. McGrogan, 449 Pa. 584, 297 A.2d 456 (1972) (counsel not ineffective for declining voluntary manslaughter charge/claim of self-defense in attempt to gain outright acquittal)......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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