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COMMONWEALTH EX REL. PRICE v. RUSSELL (03/14/67)

decided: March 14, 1967.

COMMONWEALTH EX REL. PRICE, APPELLANT,
v.
RUSSELL



Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas of Huntingdon County, April T., 1966, No. 8, in case of Commonwealth ex rel. Martin Price v. Harry E. Russell, Superintendent.

COUNSEL

Martin Price, appellant, in propria persona.

Warren R. Yocum, District Attorney, for appellee.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Justice Cohen took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Roberts

[ 424 Pa. Page 372]

On December 20, 1947, Martin Price shot and killed his estranged wife, Margaret. The shooting took place at about 4:30 P.M. on a public street in the presence of several witnesses. Price was immediately apprehended by a bystander and within less than three hours gave to police a signed statement admitting the shooting.

On January 13, 1948, two attorneys were retained by Price and on September 20, 1948, with those counsel present, Price pleaded guilty to murder in the Court of Common Pleas of Huntingdon County. Thereafter, Price was tried, convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to the term of life imprisonment he is now serving. No post trial motions were filed

[ 424 Pa. Page 373]

    and no appeal was taken. This appeal is from the denial without hearing of Price's petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

Liberally read, Price's petition makes the following claims (1) that his conviction of murder in the first degree is invalid because an involuntary confession was admitted into evidence against him (2) that his guilty plea was invalid because induced by the involuntary statement given to police (3) that his conviction of murder in the first degree is invalid because the determination as to the degree of guilt was made by one rather than three judges, and (4) that evidence presented against him was insufficient to sustain a conviction of murder in the first degree.

The claimed involuntariness of the statement taken from Price and admitted into evidence against him is based solely on his assertions that he was denied a request for assistance of counsel at the time of interrogation and that he lacked "mental capacity to comprehend and competently make decisions" at that time. Given the pre- Escobedo date of Price's interrogation and trial, the mere denial of counsel, does not ipso facto make his confession constitutionally inadequate, Commonwealth v. Negri, 419 Pa. 117, 129, 213 A.2d 670, 676 (1965); Commonwealth ex rel. Wilkes v. Maroney, 423 Pa. 113, 116, 222 A.2d 856, 858-59 (1966). As to Price's bare allegation that he "lacked mental capacity to comprehend and competently make decisions," we do not believe that it is sufficiently specific to require us to remand for a factual hearing. Nowhere in Price's petition is there the slightest suggestion of any intoxication, feeblemindedness or mental disease at the time of interrogation. It may be that Price's claimed lack of "mental capacity" has reference to the indications in the record that he was virtually illiterate at the time of his interrogation. But even under decisions most sensitive to the rights of defendants

[ 424 Pa. Page 374]

    during interrogation,*fn1 we do not feel that Price's statement to the police could be deemed constitutionally involuntary. It must be remembered that the statement was given less than three hours after Price had been taken into police custody. The record indicates, without contradiction, that Price was warned of his right to remain silent and that anything he said might be used against him in court. Price was not the young and inexperienced individual whose will could easily be overborne in an interrogation situation;*fn2 from his own testimony at trial, it appears that at the time of interrogation Price was about sixty years old, had raised more than a dozen children, worked in a coal mine and as a woodcutter, purchased real estate, prepared it for farming and ...


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