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COMMONWEALTH v. WILLIAMS (01/16/62)

January 16, 1962

COMMONWEALTH
v.
WILLIAMS, APPELLANT.



Appeal, No. 339, April T., 1961, from judgment of sentence of Court of Quarter Sessions of the Peace of Allegheny County, March T., 1960, No. 442, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. George Williams. Judgment of sentence reversed and new trial granted.

COUNSEL

Byrd R. Brown, for appellant.

William Claney Smith, Assistant District Attorney, with him Edward C. Boyle, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Before Ervin, Wright, Woodside, Watkins, Montgomery, and Flood, JJ. (rhodes, P.j., absent).

Author: Woodside

[ 197 Pa. Super. Page 186]

OPINION BY WOODSIDE, J.

This is an appeal from the judgment of sentence after the refusal of the court below to grant a motion for a new trial made on the ground of alleged errors in the part of the Court's charge to the jury relating to a confession.

The defendant, George Williams, and 16 other persons were arrested during a raid on a gambling game. During the course of the raid, the police officers found three envelopes containing 51 packets of heroin on the floor near the table where a card game had been in progress when they entered the room. The defendant was convicted of illegal possession of the narcotics found in the envelopes. The only evidence at the trial to connect the defendant with the heroin was his presence, along with 16 others, in the room where it was found, and an oral confession made by him to police officers, and later to a magistrate, that he had been keeping the unlawful drugs for a friend and had the envelopes in his possession at the time of the raid. The defendant denied at his trial that he had ever had possession of the illegal narcotics and contended that he knew nothing about the envelopes until after the officers

[ 197 Pa. Super. Page 187]

    found them on the floor. He said that he had admitted having possession of the narcotics only to obtain his release from custody.

The raid was made at 1:15 o'clock in the afternoon of February 29, 1960. All of the 17 persons present in the room when the officers arrived were taken to the police station and charged with violation of the gambling law and the Narcotics Act. The 17 persons arrested in the raid were detained over night. The following day they were given a hearing at which they were all held for further investigation. They were returned to the cell block and questioned by the narcotics squad of the city police. They all denied having any knowledge of the heroin which the police had found.

Williams testified at the trial that he had been questioned before being placed in the cell on February 29th, and again briefly after midnight. He testified that he requested permission of the officer interrogating him to make a telephone call but was denied permission. He further testified that the morning following the raid he asked for permission to give bail and was told by the officer that none of the 17 persons being detained could get bail "until someone admits to having these packages."

Williams further testified as follows concerning what occurred after the first hearing: "After we went back to the cell block we were all in cells. So we said: 'What are we going to do? We can't call anyone. We won't get out until somebody admits having these.' And I said, 'Well, I was supposed to be at work today.' I said, 'I haven't been able to report off work and my wife doesn't know where I am. I'll tell them I'm the man and maybe they'll let us out.' That looked like what the officers wanted, someone to admit to having it, and they'll release us."

The narcotic officers questioned Williams on three of four occasions. The officers testified that he made

[ 197 Pa. Super. Page 188]

    no request to use the telephone or to get bail. It is not denied, however, that after the magistrate's hearing on the morning after the raid, all 17 defendants were kept in custody, and that later, after Williams confessed to possession of the narcotics, bail was set for him and for the operator of the gambling game, and the other 15 defendants were fined $10 and discharged.

Williams refused to make or sign a written confession, but his oral admission concerning the possession of the heroin is a confession and is admissible in evidence only if voluntarily made. A confession may be in any form and hence may be real. 10 P.L.E., Criminal Law, ยง 251.

Under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, a conviction in a state court following the admission into evidence of a confession which is involuntary, i.e., the product of coercion, either physical or psychological, cannot stand. Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 540, 81 S.Ct. 735, 5 L.Ed.2d 760 (1961).

On the other hand, the Fourteenth Amendment does not prohibit a state from such detention and interrogation of a suspect as under the circumstances appear reasonable and not coercive. Stein v. New York, 346 U.S. 156, 184, 73 S.Ct. 1077, 97 L.Ed. 1522 (1953). The interrogation may take place at a police station so long as it is conducted fairly, reasonably, within proper limits and with full regard to the rights of those being questioned. Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 81 S.Ct. 1860, 6 L.Ed.2d 1037 (1961). Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER, speaking for the court in the Culombe case said: "... the problem of reconciling society's need for police interrogation with society's need for protection from the possible abuses ...


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