Commonwealth v. Garrett

Decision Date24 May 1967
Citation425 Pa. 594,229 A.2d 922
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Charles GARRETT, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Charles Garrett, pro se.

Alan J. Davis, Asst. Dist. Atty., Arlen Specter, Dist. Atty Philadelphia, for appellee.


ROBERTS Justice.

Martha Browning, a 72 year old neighbor of Charles Garrett, was found dead on June 21, 1962. A post mortem examination revealed she had been raped and that death was the result of multiple injuries evidently inflicted during a struggle. Appellant was taken into custody, and shortly thereafter signed a confession admitting the felony murder. On March 11, 1963, upon the advice of two court appointed counsel, he plead guilty to murder generally; upon conviction of first degree murder, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. No appeal was taken.

On May 24 1966, Garrett filed a petition for relief pursuant to the Post Conviction Hearing Act, Act of January 25, 1966, P.L. ---, 19 P.S. § 1180--1 et seq. (Supp. 1966). The court below heard oral argument, appellant being represented by counsel, on the question of whether an evidentiary hearing was necessary and, concluding it was not, dismissed the petition. We have before us the correctness of this ruling.

While appellant never challenges the assumption that his plea was knowingly entered, see Commonwealth ex rel. Kern v. Maroney, 423 Pa. 369, 371--372, 223 A.2d 706, 707 (1966); Commonwealth ex rel. Crosby v. Rundle, 415 Pa. 81, 85, 202 A.2d 299, 302 (1964), he does contend that it was unlawfully induced because based upon an involuntary confession. He further alleges that because his counsel advised him to plead guilty on the strength of the allegedly tainted confession and did not oppose its introduction at the hearing, they did not provide competent representation. [1]

We turn first to a consideration of the plea itself. A plea of guilty, knowingly made, constitutes an admission of guilt and is a waiver of all non-jurisdictional defects and defenses. Commonwealth ex rel. West v. Myers, 423 Pa. 1, 222 A.2d 918 (1966); United States v. Ptomey, 366 F.2d 759 (3rd Cir. 1966); United States ex rel. Maisenhelder v. Rundle, 349 F.2d 592, 595 (3rd Cir. 1965). The rule relating to the effect of a guilty plea, of course, 'does not mean that a defendant who has pleaded guilty to murder waives the right to object to the admission of improper evidence which will bear on the degree of guilt and the punishment to be imposed.' Commonwealth ex rel. Sanders v. Maroney, 417 Pa. 380, 382, 207 A.2d 789, 790 (1965); see Commonwealth ex rel. Kern v. Maroney, supra.

However, as the Commonwealth's brief concedes, the general rule 'is not strictly applicable to the present case because appellant contends that his guilty plea was coerced by reason of the alleged involuntary confession.' As we understand the Commonwealth's position, appellant would be entitled to a hearing if his petition alleged specific circumstances, which, when viewed in their totality, might have prevented him from entering a voluntary plea, provided the truth of these allegations were not contradicted by the record. United States ex rel. Perpiglia v. Rundle, 221 F.Supp. 1003 (E.D.Pa.1963); see Waley v. Johnston, 316 U.S. 101, 62 S.Ct. 964, 86 L.Ed. 1302 (1942); Hudgins v. United States, 340 F.2d 391 (3rd. Cir. 1965); United States v. Morin, 265 F.2d 241 (3rd Cir. 1959). In other words, the Commonwealth recognizes there are instances where the guilty plea must be equated with a second confession whose voluntariness is undercut by a prior invalid confession, e.g., Clewis v. Texas, 386 U.S. 707, 87 S.Ct. 1338, 18 L.Ed.2d 423 (1967).

The mere existence of an involuntary confession, however, is not sufficient to invalidate a guilty plea for the petitioner would still have to prove that the involuntary confession was the primary motivation for his plea of guilty. Brown v. Turner, 257 F.Supp. 734, 738 (E.D.N.C.1966); see Gilmore v. People of State of California, 364 F.2d 916 (9th Cir. 1966). When a defendant enters a guilty plea, the Commonwealth in justified reliance upon that plea frequently does not preserve all the evidence it has assembled against the defendant. Thus a contrary rule would encourage an obviously guilty defendant to enter a plea in the hope that it could be set aside as coerced, at a later time when the evidence against him would have disappeared and witnesses to the crime will be unavailable.

There are, moreover, many reasons, other than the existence of the confession, which may influence the defendant's decision to plead. For example, he may view it as a first step towards his rehabilitation, he may believe the Commonwealth has sufficient evidence to convict him without the confession, he may wish to avoid the glare of publicity of a jury trial and save his family from the resulting embarrassment, or he may simply hope for a more lenient sentence. At the same time it may be in the Commonwealth's best interest to accept a plea of guilty in return for a recommendation that certain additional charges be dropped or that the defendant not receive the maximum permissible sentence. See e.g., Commonwealth ex rel. Kerekes v. Maroney, 423 Pa. 337, 223 A.2d 699 (1966); American Bar Association, Standards Relating to Pleas of Guilty (Institute of Judicial Administration 1967); Newman, Pleading Guilty for Considerations, 46 J.Crim.L., C. & P.S. 780 (1956); Note, Guilty Plea Bargaining: Compromises by Prosecutors to Secure Guilty Pleas, 112 U.Pa.L.Rev. 865 (1964). In considering allegations of the sort made by this appellant, we simply cannot close our eyes to the realities of plea bargaining.

On the other hand, since a valid guilty plea must be 'the defendant's own voluntary and intelligent choice, not merely the choice of his counsel,' we have directed that such a plea shall not be accepted until the trial court has satisfied itself 'that the defendant understands the meaning of the charge, the consequences of pleading guilty, and that the acceptance of the plea will not result in a miscarriage of justice.' Commonwealth ex rel. Kerekes v. Maroney, 423 Pa. 337, 342, 350, 223 A.2d 699, 702, 706 (1966); see Comonwealth ex rel. West v. Myers, 423 Pa. 1, 222 A.2d 918 (1966); United States ex rel. McDonald v. Pennsylvania, 343 F.2d 447, 451 (3rd Cir. 1965).

Conceptually, as well as in practice, the realities of plea bargaining and the requirement that the defendant make the ultimate decision regarding the plea frequently conflict. See Gilmore v. People of State of California, 364 F.2d 916 (9th Cir. 1966); Cortez v. United States, 337 F.2d 699 (9th Cir. 1964). The allegation that a guilty plea is coerced by reason of an alleged involuntary confession poses the question as to whether the decision to forego objections to the confession, the consequence of a valid guilty plea, is one which initially is to be made by the defendant or his counsel. Compare Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391, 439, 83 S.Ct. 822, 849, 9 L.Ed.2d 837 (1963) and Brookhart v. Janis, 384 U.S. 1, 86 S.Ct. 1245, 16 L.Ed.2d 314 (1966) with Henry v. State of Mississippi, 379 U.S. 443, 451, 85 S.Ct. 564, 569, 13 L.Ed.2d 408 (1965). See generally, Comment, Criminal Waiver: The Requirements of Personal Participation, Competence and Legitimate State Interest, 54 Calif.L.Rev. 1262, 1266--76 (1966).

Prior to the establishment of a prophylactic rule in Miranda v. State of Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), the determination of whether a particular set of facts constituted an inadmissible confession was something even the most experienced criminal lawyer could only speculate about. [2] Accordingly, it would be inconceivable that the average criminal defendant would be able to comprehend the frequently fine line between an involuntary and voluntary confession. See Comment, 54 Calif.L.Rev. at 1272--76. To suggest, as Judge Higginbotham does in United States ex rel. Cuevas v. Rundle, 258 F.Supp. 647 (E.D.Pa.1966), that a defendant must always [3] be told of the theoretical possibility that a confession could be excluded is of no avail if the defendant lacks the ability and knowledge to be able to make a rational tactical choice based upon that information. On the other hand, the decision to plead, while often an excruciating one, does not require the same degree of sophistication.

Accordingly, we conclude that counsel may make the initial determination as to whether the confession would, if challenged, be nonetheless admitted. [4] Then upon the strength of this conclusion he and his client must determine their strategy concerning a possible plea. [5] Mere error on the part of counsel, especially if this professional misjudgment is evident only through hindsight, will not suffice to permit the plea to be collaterally attacked.

Garrett's allegation regarding his counsel's incompetency is closely related to the problem discussed above. While the sixth amendment to the federal constitution, made applicable to the states by the fourteenth amendment guarantees the accused effective assistance of counsel, [6] we have emphasized that the determination of counsel's effectiveness is in no way dependent upon the defendant's satisfaction with the result. Commonwealth ex rel. LaRue v. Rundle, 417 Pa. 383, 386--389, 207 A.2d 829, 831--832 (1965); cf. Williams v. Beto, 354 F.2d 698 (5th Cir. 1965); Brubaker v. Dickson, 310 F.2d 30 (9th Cir. 1962), cert. denied, 372 U.S. 978, 83 S.Ct. 1110, 10 L.Ed.2d 143 (1963). Appellant's averment that counsel gave him 'false advice' about the admissibility of his confession does not, in the circumstances related above, constitute an allegation of incompetency...

To continue reading

Request your trial

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