Com. v. Melton

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtBefore JONES; POMEROY; ROBERTS; ROBERTS
Citation465 Pa. 529,351 A.2d 221
Decision Date29 January 1976
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Carl MELTON, Appellant.

Page 221

351 A.2d 221
465 Pa. 529
COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania
v.
Carl MELTON, Appellant.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Submitted Nov. 27, 1974.
Decided Jan. 29, 1976.

Page 222

[465 Pa. 532] Louis M. Natali, Jr., Philadelphia, for appellant.

F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Dist. Atty., Richard A. Sprague, First Asst. Dist. Atty., Steven H. Goldblatt, Asst. Dist. Atty., Chief, Appeals Div., Mark Sendrow, Asst. Dist. Atty., Asst. Chief, Appeals Div., Philadelphia, for appellee.

Before JONES, C.J., and EAGEN, O'BRIEN, ROBERTS, POMEROY, NIX and MANDERINO, JJ.

Page 223

OPINION OF THE COURT

POMEROY, Justice.

This is an appeal from the order of the court below entered after an evidentiary hearing denying appellant relief 1 under the Post Conviction Hearing Act ('P.C.H.A.'). 2 The hearing was held pursuant to our decision of November 17, 1972, wherein we reversed the order of the trial court dismissing appellant's P.C.H.A. petition without a hearing. 449 Pa. 223, 296 A.2d 727 (1972). 3

[465 Pa. 533] This case arose from the killing of one Rose Schloss during the course of a robbery at her home on December 13, 1958 perpetrated by Melton and a co-defendant. Appellant was brought to trial before a jury and was convicted of murder in the first degree. Sentence was set at death. Melton's motion for a new trial was granted by the court of common pleas and the Commonwealth's appeal from the new trial order was dismissed. 402 Pa. 628, 168 A.2d 328 (1961). On retrial the appellant pleaded guilty to murder generally and after a degree of guilt hearing the court en banc determined that the killing rose to murder in the first degree and the death penalty was again imposed. Appellant thereupon exhausted his direct appeal and habeas corpus remedies. The instant proceeding under the P.C.H.A. followed.

In this collateral attack on the judgment against him, Melton raised three issues, all relating to whether his guilty plea was valied. The same issues are pressed on appeal. First, Melton claims that he lacked sufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent guilty plea; second, he alleges that his guilty plea was primarily motivated by an involuntary confession; and third, appellant maintains that his guilty plea was induced by his fear that the death penalty would be imposed upon him if he chose to be tried by a jury because of the allegedly unconstitutional jury selection procedure prevailing at the time of the entry of the plea. After careful consideration,[465 Pa. 534] we have concluded that all of these arguments are without merit.

(1) Appellant's first argument is premised to a large degree on our decision in Commonwealth v. Harris, 431 Pa. 114, 243 A.2d 408 (1968), in which we invalidated a guilty plea entered by a defendant with an I.Q. of 49 and a mental age of 8, who lacked the ability "to think intellectually in any degree". 431 Pa. at 118, 243 A.2d at 410. Melton claims that because there was evidence that his own I.Q. was approximately 69 and that he too had the

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mentality of an 8 or 9 year old, his guilty plea, like that of Harris, must be considered a nullity. Appellant misreads our holding in Harris. We did not there establish a Per se rule invalidating every guilty plea made by a defendant who was in some way mentally deficient. Instead, we reiterated that "(t)he test to be applied in determining the legal sufficiency of (a defendant's) mental capacity to stand trial, or enter a plea at the time involved, is not the M'Naghten 'right or wrong' test, but rather His ability to comprehend his position as one accused of murder and to cooperate with his counsel in making a rational defense." 431 Pa. at 116--17, 243 A.2d at 409. (emphasis added). See also Commonwealth v. Marshall, 454 Pa. 413, 312 A.2d 6 (1973); Commonwealth v. Miller, 454 Pa. 67, 309 A.2d 705 (1973).

Under this standard there is no doubt of appellant's ability to enter an intelligent guilty plea. Unlike the record in Harris, there is nothing here to establish that Melton lacked the 'ability 'to think intellectually in any degree. '' Indeed, the evidence is to the contrary. At the degree of guilt hearing following appellant's plea Dr. John G. Torney, a court-appointed psychiatrist, testified that appellant was mentally competent. At the P.C.H.A. hearing, appellant's counsel at the time of the entry of the plea, James McCort, Esq., testified that none of the doctors who had examined Melton had concluded [465 Pa. 535] that he was incompetent to stand trial or discuss the case with his attorneys. Furthermore, Mr. McCort testified that, observing the defendant testify at his first trial, McCort was struck by the fact that 'that man was the most articulate 69 I.Q. man that I heard on the witness stand.' He was so impressed by Melton's articulateness that he added, 'when he got on the stand to testify so help me God I thought it (sic) was a Harvard graduate.' Such an appraisal by the appellant's own trial lawyer directly refutes appellant's present claim of incompetence. We cannot say that the hearing judge abused his discretion in not crediting that claim.

(2) Appellant next asserts that his guilty plea was primarily motivated by the existence of a confession which had been obtained from him illegally. In Commonwealth v. Marsh, 440 Pa. 590, 271 A.2d 481 (1970), we adopted a tripartite test for determining when a guilty plea could be invalidated on that ground: (1) an involuntary pretrial confession; (2) a guilty plea primarily motivated by that confession, and (3) a showing that, under the circumstances, the advice given to the defendant by his lawyer that he plead guilty was incompetent. See also Commonwealth v. Zakrzewski, 460 Pa. 528, 333 A.2d 898 (1975); Commonwealth v. Marsh, 460 Pa. 253, 333 A.2d 181 (1975); Commonwealth v. Williams, 456 Pa. 377, 321 A.2d 608 (1974); Commonwealth v. Velez, 455 Pa. 434, 317 A.2d 252 (1974); Commonwealth v. Tolbert, 450 Pa. 149, 299 A.2d 252 (1973); Commonwealth v. Hollenbaugh, 449 Pa. 6, 295 A.2d 78 (1972); Commonwealth v. Taylor, 449 Pa. 345, 296 A.2d 823 (1972). In the present case the P.C.H.A. court, following the evidentiary hearing, concluded that '(t)he defendant has failed utterly to establish any of these criteria.' Because we have decided that appellant has failed to establish that his confession was in fact involuntary, we need not consider whether the other criteria have been met.

[465 Pa. 536] Appellant's allegation that his confession was involuntary rests primarily upon two factors which he claims to have been present: (1) his mental deficiency and (2) the fact that he was not informed prior to confessing that a victim of the robbery and assault had died. In determining whether or not a confession is voluntary where, as here, we do not have the benefit of any findings of fact by the court below 4 we are to make our own independent

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review of the record. In doing so, '(w)e consider only the uncontested portions of the record: the evidence of the prosecution's witnesses and so much of the evidence for the defense as, fairly read in the context of the record as a whole, remains uncontradicted.' Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 604, 81 S.Ct. 1860,...

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6 practice notes
  • Com. v. Hughes
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 21 Diciembre 2004
    ...insanity, however, are distinct. See Commonwealth v. Bruno, 466 Pa. 245, 252 n. 3, 352 A.2d 40, 44 n. 3 (1976); Commonwealth v. Melton, 465 Pa. 529, 534, 351 A.2d 221, 224 (1976). A competency determination involves an assessment of a defendant's ability, at the time of trial, to consult wi......
  • Com. v. Logan
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 18 Octubre 1988
    ...452 U.S. 919, 101 S.Ct. 3057, 69 L.Ed.2d 424; Commonwealth v. Tyson, 485 Pa. 344, 349, 402 A.2d 995, 997 (1979); Commonwealth v. Melton, 465 Pa. 529, 534, 351 A.2d 221, 224 (1976); Commonwealth v. Davis, 459 Pa. 575, 577-578, 330 A.2d 847, 848 The lower court in the instant matter accorded ......
  • Com. v. Davis
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • 19 Abril 1990
    ...incompetent that he was incapable of waiving either his right to counsel or right to appeal. See generally Commonwealth v. Melton, 465 Pa. 529, 351 A.2d 221 (1976); Commonwealth v. Brown, 443 Pa. 21, 275 A.2d 332, 335 (1971). He was held to be competent by the pre-trial motions court so as ......
  • Com. v. Chopak
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 30 Septiembre 1992
    ...as one accused of murder and to cooperate with his counsel [in making a rational] defense." Page 700 Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Melton, 465 Pa. 529, 534, 351 A.2d 221, 224 (1976)). See also Commonwealth v. Tyson, 485 Pa. 344, 402 A.2d 995 Instantly, the question raised is limited to wheth......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Com. v. Hughes
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 21 Diciembre 2004
    ...insanity, however, are distinct. See Commonwealth v. Bruno, 466 Pa. 245, 252 n. 3, 352 A.2d 40, 44 n. 3 (1976); Commonwealth v. Melton, 465 Pa. 529, 534, 351 A.2d 221, 224 (1976). A competency determination involves an assessment of a defendant's ability, at the time of trial, to consult wi......
  • Com. v. Logan
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 18 Octubre 1988
    ...452 U.S. 919, 101 S.Ct. 3057, 69 L.Ed.2d 424; Commonwealth v. Tyson, 485 Pa. 344, 349, 402 A.2d 995, 997 (1979); Commonwealth v. Melton, 465 Pa. 529, 534, 351 A.2d 221, 224 (1976); Commonwealth v. Davis, 459 Pa. 575, 577-578, 330 A.2d 847, 848 The lower court in the instant matter accorded ......
  • Com. v. Davis
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • 19 Abril 1990
    ...incompetent that he was incapable of waiving either his right to counsel or right to appeal. See generally Commonwealth v. Melton, 465 Pa. 529, 351 A.2d 221 (1976); Commonwealth v. Brown, 443 Pa. 21, 275 A.2d 332, 335 (1971). He was held to be competent by the pre-trial motions court so as ......
  • Com. v. Chopak
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • 30 Septiembre 1992
    ...accused of murder and to cooperate with his counsel [in making a rational] defense." Page 700 Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Melton, 465 Pa. 529, 534, 351 A.2d 221, 224 (1976)). See also Commonwealth v. Tyson, 485 Pa. 344, 402 A.2d 995 Instantly, the question raised is limited to whether......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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