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GRAND JURY INVESTIGATION CONDITIONS AT WESTERN STATE PENITENTIARY. APPEAL ATTORNEY GENERAL. (GRAND JURY INVESTIGATION WESTERN STATE PENITENTIARY.) (04/15/53)

April 15, 1953

IN RE GRAND JURY INVESTIGATION OF CONDITIONS AT THE WESTERN STATE PENITENTIARY. APPEAL OF ATTORNEY GENERAL. (GRAND JURY INVESTIGATION OF WESTERN STATE PENITENTIARY.)


COUNSEL

Robert E. Woodside, Atty. Gen., David S. Kohn, Edward Friedman, Deputy Attys. Gen., Harry F. Stambaugh, Sp. Counsel, Harrisburg, for appellant.

Albert A. Fiok, Louis Bowytz, Asst. Dist. Attys., and James F. Malone, Jr., Dist. Atty. of Allegheny County, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Before Rhodes, P. J., and Hirt, Reno, Ross, Gunther and Wright, JJ.

Author: Rhodes

[ 173 Pa. Super. Page 199]

RHODES, President Judge.

This is an appeal by the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from an order*fn1 of the Court of Quarter Sessions of Allegheny County dismissing the petition of the Attorney General to limit to criminal acts committed in Allegheny County an investigation of the Western State Penitentiary*fn2 by the grand jury (January, 1953)*fn3 of Allegheny County requested by petition of the District Attorney of Allegheny County.

[ 173 Pa. Super. Page 200]

The petition of the District Attorney of Allegheny County presented on January 21, 1953, to the Court of Quarter Sessions of Allegheny County set forth that there had been a prison break on November 30, 1952, in the Western State Penitentiary located at Pittsburgh; and that a general riot followed among the inmates on January 18, 1953. The District Attorney in his petition requested the court to submit to a grand jury for investigation 'The real and actual conditions presently and heretofore existing in said Western Penitentiary * * *.' On the same day, January 21, 1953, the Court of Quarter Sessions of Allegheny County granted the prayer of the District Attorney's petition, and entered an order that the 'matters * * * complained of in the said petition, be submitted to the January, 1953, Sessions of the Grand Jury for its investigation and consideration.'

On January 27, 1953, the Attorney General presented a petition to the Court of Quarter Sessions of Allegheny County requesting the court to 'modify its order of January 21, 1953, by limiting the investigation of the grand jury to criminal acts committed in Allegheny County.' In his petition the Attorney General asserted that the supervision and the administration of all state institutions, including the Western State Penitentiary, were the responsibility of the Department of Welfare; that the Western State Penitentiary is a state institution and a branch of the Executive Department of the Commonwealth; that the Court of Quarter Sessions of Allegheny County had no lawful authority to direct a grand jury investigation of the executive branch of the state government; and that the Secretary of Welfare and the Attorney General were presently conducting an investigation of the outbreak in the state penitentiary. It was further set forth that the Governor of the Commonwealth had announced the appointment

[ 173 Pa. Super. Page 201]

    of a committee to make a general investigation of prison conditions in Pennsylvania, including conditions in the Western State Penitentiary. The Court of Quarter Sessions, upon consideration of the petition of the Attorney General, by order of January 28, 1953, reaffirmed the order originally entered on January 21, 1953, and refused 'to limit the investigation of the Grand Jury to criminal acts committed in Allegheny County.' The order is the subject of the present appeal.

We are all of the opinion that, under the circumstances disclosed by this record, the Court of Quarter Sessions of Allegheny County abused its discretion in entering the order refusing the petition of the Attorney General to limit the grand jury investigation to criminal acts committed in Allegheny County. 'Judicial discretion requires action in conformity with law upon the facts and circumstances before the court after hearing and due consideration.' Philadelphia County Grand Jury Investigation Case, 347 Pa. 316, 326, 32 A.2d 199, 204.

An extended review and analysis of the decisions of the courts of this Commonwealth are unnecessary. The applicable and controlling principles having been exhaustively stated therein, we shall make only brief references to the established law. A grand jury is an arm of the criminal court, and criminal acts alone must be the foundation of its deliberations. McNair's Petition, 324 Pa. 48, 58, 187 A. 498, 106 A.L.R. 1373. The sole objective of grand jury investigations is to ascertain whether the criminal law has been violated and to bring the guilty ones to justice. Appeal of Margiotti, 365 Pa. 330, 340, 75 A.2d 465. A court of quarter sessions has no power to ...


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