Tahl, In re

Decision Date07 November 1969
Docket NumberCr. 13410
Citation81 Cal.Rptr. 577,1 Cal.3d 122
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 460 P.2d 449 In re William Albert TAHL on Habeas Corpus.

LeRue Grim, San Francisco, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for petitioner.

Thomas C. Lynch, Atty. Gen., William E. James, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Ronald M. George, Deputy Atty. Gen., for respondent.

MOSK, Justice.

Petitioner pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and one count each of attempted robbery, grand theft, and rape. He was sentenced to death by a jury, and on appeal this court affirmed the judgment in its entirety. (People v. Tahl (1967) 65 Cal.2d 719, 56 Cal.Rptr. 318, 423 P.2d 246.)

In this habeas corpus proceeding petitioner contends (1) that his guilty plea was not made voluntarily and with full understanding of its consequences; and (2) that the manner of selection of the jury for the penalty phase of his trial was in violation of the standards subsequently established in Witherspoon v. Illinois (1968) 391 U.S. 510, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 20 L.Ed.2d 776. We conclude that petitioner's first contention lacks merit, but his second requires a reversal of his death sentence and a new penalty trial.


Petitioner contends that the trial court failed to inform him of the nature and consequences of his guilty plea, and that he at no time expressly waived his right to a jury trial or any other constitutional right. Whether or not petitioner is factually correct, we cannot agree with his legal conclusion that the guilty plea was therefore rendered invalid.

Following initial pleas of 'not guilty' on all counts, empanelment of a jury, and the prosecuting attorney's opening statement to the jury, petitioner asked for and received the trial court's permission to withdraw his pleas and enter pleas of 'guilty' in their stead. The trial judge questioned petitioner and his attorney at length regarding these changed pleas; the significant portions of the colloquy among the trial court, petitioner, and his attorney are set forth in the margin. 1 It is apparent that petitioner's rights were waived more by inference than by express language. Whether such a record is sufficient to indicate a voluntary and understanding plea and an intelligent waiver of rights depends upon the standards which we must apply. As will be seen, these standards, fairly well established at the time of petitioner's conviction, have been altered since that time. It will be necessary to examine first the law as it existed when petitioner pleaded guilty, and then the extent to which that law has been changed by recent Supreme Court pronouncements and the effect, if any, of those changes on petitioner's plea.

Several states and the federal courts have developed over the years an extensive body of law regarding the procedural requirements for acceptance of a guilty plea. (E.g., McCarthy v. United States (1969) 394 U.S. 459, 89 S.Ct. 1166, 22 L.Ed.2d 418; People v. Bumpus (1959) 355 Mich. 374, 94 N.W.2d 854; Rudolph v. State (1925) 32 Okl.Cr. 265, 240 P. 761; Commonwealth ex rel. West v. Rundle (1968) 428 Pa. 102, 237 A.2d 196; Annot. (1964) 97 A.L.R.2d 549.) Either by statute, by case law, or by court rule, these jurisdictions have generally established the principle that before accepting a guilty plea a trial court must be satisfied that the accused understands and freely waives his constitutional rights, especially his rights to counsel and to a jury trial, and further understands the nature of the charge against him and the consequences of his plea of guilty. While courts have stressed the desirability of an affirmative showing on the record as to waiver of rights and understanding of consequences (see, e.g., Commonwealth ex rel. West v. Rundle, supra, at pp. 197--198), no specific language is usually prescribed, the court looking to the overall record and the surrounding circumstances to ascertain the voluntary nature of the plea. (E.g., People v. Doyle (1960) 20 Ill.2d 163, 169 N.E.2d 250; People v. Bumpus, supra.)

California law provides relatively few pronouncements, either legislative or judicial, regarding the acceptance of a guilty plea; but such authorities as exist appear to be in general agreement with the rules in other jurisdictions. Any variance tilts somewhat toward more tolerance and less precision. A review of these authorities convinces us that the guilty plea in the instant case was in conformity with then existing California law.

The most recent definitive statement by this court is found in People v. Mendez (1945) 27 Cal.2d 20, 161 P.2d 929, in which we stated unequivocally that 'There is no statutory requirement in this state that any special admonition be given by the court when accepting a plea of guilty.' (Id. at p. 22, 161 P.2d at p. 930.) As that case demonstrates, there was also no judicially imposed requirement of any admonition. The trial court in Mendez, after an abbreviated colloquy with the defendant, determined that the defendant had 'advised with counsel,' and concluded that the plea was thus free and voluntary. There was neither an inquiry or explanation by the trial court nor an express waiver by the defendant of specific rights; and the court did not enumerate in detail the nature of the charge or the consequences of a guilty plea. 2 Manifestly the examination of the defendant was briefer than that undertaken in the instant case. Yet the Mendez court concluded that 'The (trial) court's acceptance of the plea after such examination cannot be deemed to have prejudiced the defendant's rights.' (Id. at p. 22, 161 P.2d at p. 930.)

In People v. Emigh (1959) 174 Cal.App.2d 392, 344 P.2d 851, a similar record appears. The defendant pleaded 'not guilty by reason of insanity,' a plea which admits commission of the offense itself. Defense counsel stated that the defendant was aware of his rights; the court inquired of defendant if this was correct, and the defendant replied, 'Yes.' The court then asked he defendant whether he knew the nature of the charge, and upon receiving an affirmative reply accepted the insanity plea. On appeal, the defendant contended he should have been informed of his rights to a speedy trial; a public trial; counsel at all stages of the proceedings; freedom from double jeopardy, self-incrimination, and unlawful search and seizure; a jury trial; and confrontation of his accusers. Only his right to a jury trial had apparently been expressly waived. The Court of Appeal stated, at page 395, 344 P.2d at page 853: 'The other rights enumerated by (the defendant) were rights That would be protected by counsel. There is no statutory provision which requires that the accused in a criminal case who is represented by counsel be informed as to all his rights. * * * (A)nd where an accused is represented by counsel the court is not under a duty to inform the accused of the effect of such pleas.' (Italics added.)

The transcendent importance under California law--as well as that of other jurisdictions--of the presence of counsel at the time of a plea was also emphasized in People v. Loeber (1958) 158 Cal.App.2d 730, 323 P.2d 136 (hearing denied), in which the defendant claimed the trial court had failed to advise him of the consequences of his guilty plea. The Court of Appeal replied, 'The trial court was not required to so 'admonish' (the defendant) * * *. Furthermore, the record also shows that when (the defendant) entered his pleas in the Municipal Court he was represented by counsel, Who presumably informed him of the consequences of the plea entered.' (Italics added.) (Id. at pp. 735--736, 323 P.2d at p. 140; see also Williams v. Cox (10th Cir. 1965) 350 F.2d 847, 849; United States v. Von Der Heide (D.D.C.1959) 169 F.Supp. 560, 566.)

Thus the crucial factor has generally been the presence of counsel. In a capital case California law does not allow a plea of guilty without counsel; and for lesser offenses counsel must be clearly and expressly waived, a provision our courts scrupulously enforce. (Pen.Code, § 1018; In re Johnson (1965) 62 Cal.2d 325, 42 Cal.Rptr. 228, 398 P.2d 420; People v. Ector (1965) 231 Cal.App.2d 619, 42 Cal.Rptr. 388.) It is for good reason that the prerequisites for acceptance of a guilty plea are far less precise when counsel is present than when he is not, and the rules regarding waiver of counsel are more stringent than those regarding waiver of most other rights. If an accused has counsel, courts have generally assumed, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, counsel will perform his duty as an advocate and an officer of the court to inform the accused of and take steps to protect the other rights afforded by the law; whereas if he is without counsel courts have not assumed, again in the absence of a clear showing to the contrary, that the accused will be 'sufficiently articulate and adequately conversant with his constitutional and legal rights and his procedural duties to protect himself throughout the course of criminal proceedings.' (People v. Mattson (1959) 51 Cal.2d 777, 789, 336 P.2d 937, 946; see People v. Evanson (1968) 265 Cal.App.2d 698, 701, 71 Cal.Rptr. 503 (hearing denied).) Thus the California rule has been stated as follows: 'The court must inform the defendant of his right to counsel, but need not inform him of the consequences of his plea; that is the responsibility of his counsel, not the court.' (Witkin, Cal.Crim.Procedure (1963) § 253, p. 234.)

In light of these authorities, it is clear that the trial court here adequately examined petitioner prior to accepting his plea of guilty. In fact, rather than simply presuming from the presence of counsel that petitioner had been informed of his rights, the court specifically ascertained from petitioner that he had in fact conferred with counsel as to his rights and the nature of his plea to the charge. 3 We do not mean to imply that the trial court could not have undertaken...

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