Kilkenny, Labrecque and Lane. The opinion of the court was delivered by Lane, J.A.D.
Defendant appeals from a judgment of conviction of murder of Leon Fort entered upon his plea of non vult. On May 10, 1967 he was sentenced to the New Jersey State Prison for life. For sufficient reasons, on May 10, 1971 we granted leave to file a notice of appeal as within time.
The Public Defender argues on behalf of defendant that his sentence was manifestly excessive. In a pro se brief defendant argues that he was deprived of due process because the trial court failed to hold a hearing to determine that he was competent to stand trial and failed to hold a hearing to determine that he was competent to enter a plea of non vult. Defendant also argues that in fact he was not competent to stand trial because he had no memory of the events leading to and at the time of the killing. Additionally, he contends that the plea of non vult was not voluntary.
In three separate indictments defendant was indicted for the murder of Leon Fort, the murder of Julius Ravin and an atrocious assault and battery upon George Ivory, all committed at or about the same time on November 12, 1965. The indictments were filed January 15, 1966. On January
31, 1966 defendant, represented by competent counsel, pleaded not guilty. The indictments were assigned for trial on May 16, 1966. On May 23, 1966 during the course of the trial the court declared a mistrial based upon reports from defendant's and the State's psychiatrists that he was suffering from chronic brain syndrome with psychotic reaction. He was transferred to the New Jersey State Hospital where he remained until discharged December 9, 1966.
The indictments were again set down for trial on April 3, 1967 before the same judge. Before the jury was selected defendant retracted the plea of not guilty and pleaded non vult to the indictment charging the murder of Leon Fort. Subsequently, the other two indictments were dismissed. Criminal Procedure Form 13A had been completed by defendant. When the trial judge addressed defendant as to whether he was asking the court to accept the plea of non vult and whether he understood what the court was saying to him, defendant replied, "Not exactly good, sir." The question was put to defendant in a simpler form. He said that he did understand it. When asked whether he understood that the effect of the plea of non vult was the same as the effect of the plea of guilty, defendant replied, "All I understand is what my lawyer told me." When asked whether his plea was being voluntarily made, he said, "Yes, just like what my lawyer tells me." Later in the hearing the following occurred:
THE COURT: You are doing it only because you want to do it?
DEFENDANT PUGH: Only because what my lawyer told me.
THE COURT: You want to do it after consultation with your lawyer?
DEFENDANT PUGH: After I talked with my lawyer.
Defendant did say that he understood what he was doing after his lawyer had explained it to him.
At the sentencing his attorney advised the court that after defendant was released from the State Hospital, he
was examined by the state psychiatrist and by a neurologist and a psychiatrist on his own behalf and judged to be competent to stand trial. When the court asked defendant whether he understood that the effect of the plea of non vult was to admit the charge, the defendant did not know what "admit" meant. He further said as to the incident, "I don't know what happened." Defendant said that he was doing "what my lawyer said."
Defendant's attorney advised the court that he had seen signed statements obtained by the State from persons who witnessed the event. Although the attorney represented to the court that he was unable to get any information about the incident from defendant because of his alleged lack of memory, the trial judge did not believe that there was in fact a lack of memory. ...