The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARSH
This is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by the relator, James Cannon, who is presently in the custody of the respondent. The factual background on which the petition is based is not disputed.
On September 19, 1949, at No. 103 September Sessions, 1949, Court of Oyer & Terminer, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, the relator was indicted for murder and voluntary manslaughter in connection with the death of one Charles M. Williams. On December 7, 1953, a jury trial on this indictment was commenced.
During his opening address to the jury, the prosecuting attorney stated: "This was not the first time that James Cannon took the life of another human being." Following this remark defense counsel moved for the withdrawal of a juror. The motion was denied by the trial judge who subsequently cautioned against further references to past convictions.
Near the close of the Commonwealth's case, a prior conviction of Cannon for manslaughter in the State of Maryland was admitted into evidence over the objection of defense counsel. The conviction was offered for the sole purpose of fixing punishment should Cannon be found guilty of murder in the first degree.
In 1953 this was permissible in Pennsylvania.
A notation on the record of conviction indicated that Cannon had been pardoned for that offense by the Governor of Maryland.
Cannon, whose defense was an alibi, took the stand in his own behalf. On cross-examination he was asked whether he had previously attacked one Georgia Fuller with the result that she required 17 stitches. Defense counsel again moved for the withdrawal of a juror, and the motion was again denied. However, the trial judge instructed the jury to disregard the district attorney's question and would permit no further questioning on the matter.
The relator, in his petition for the writ, raises two issues in connection with the aforementioned facts: (1) whether the conduct of the prosecuting attorney in his opening address and in his cross-examination of the relator constituted a denial of due process and a fair trial, and (2) whether the admission of the prior conviction in the State of Maryland constituted a denial of due process and a fair trial in view of the fact that relator was pardoned for that offense. He does not raise the broader issue of the constitutionality of admitting a prior conviction in and of itself before the jury has determined the guilt of the defendant - the Parker Rule.
State remedies having been exhausted,
we issued a rule to show cause and, when counsel for the respondent failed to appear at oral argument on the rule, we ordered that a hearing be held. While the relator was present at the hearing, no testimony was taken, counsel for the parties having agreed to the facts and having stipulated that the issues raised were purely legal in nature.
In our opinion the petition for the writ should be denied.
In order to find a denial of the fundamental fairness which is the essence of due process, it is necessary to find that the absence of that fairness fatally infected the relator's trial; that the acts complained of were of such quality as to necessarily prevent a fair trial.
From our examination of the record, we are unable to conclude that the conduct of the prosecuting attorney was of such quality that the relator was necessarily prevented from receiving a fair trial.
The prosecuting attorney had a right to outline to the jury the facts he intended to prove by the Commonwealth's evidence. Under Pennsylvania law as it existed at the time of trial, he could prove and in fact did prove as part of the Commonwealth's case, albeit for a limited purpose, that Cannon was convicted of the crime of manslaughter in 1942.
Under these circumstances we cannot say that the relator's trial was fatally infected by the remark.
In asserting that the prior conviction should not have been admitted in view of the subsequent pardon thereof, relator argues that under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution,
the effect of the pardon should be determined by reference to the law of Maryland. In this connection he argues that under Maryland law, a pardon obliterates the crime as ...