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COMMONWEALTH v. FELDMAN (11/12/68)

decided: November 12, 1968.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
FELDMAN, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Lancaster County, March T., 1968, Nos. 274b and 275b, in case of Commonwealth v. Susan L. Feldman.

COUNSEL

William A. Atlee, Jr., with him Bernard J. Myers, Jr., for appellant.

Henry J. Rutherford, Assistant District Attorney, with him D. Richard Eckman, Assistant District Attorney, and Clarence C. Newcomer, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Justice Jones, Mr. Justice Cohen and Mr. Justice Eagen concur in the result. Mr. Justice Musmanno did not participate in the decision of this case.

Author: Roberts

[ 432 Pa. Page 429]

Appellant was found guilty of first degree murder after entering a plea of guilty to a charge of murder generally. She now assigns as error the introduction at her degree of guilt hearing of two statements made by her to the police and district attorney shortly after

[ 432 Pa. Page 430]

    she was arrested for this crime.*fn1 The Commonwealth not only contends that these statements were admissible but also claims that the validity of these confessions is not properly before us because an appellant may only attack the validity of the plea and the lawfulness of the sentence once a guilty plea is entered. We shall discuss each of these contentions separately.

This Court has held that only the validity of the plea and the lawfulness of the sentence may be raised on appeal from the entry of a guilty plea. Commonwealth v. Stokes, 426 Pa. 265, 232 A.2d 193 (1967). This is generally true of all guilty pleas except when, following the plea of guilty to murder generally, the defendant is convicted of murder in the first degree. In this situation a degree of guilt hearing will have been conducted in which the Commonwealth has had the burden of proving the elements of murder in the first degree beyond a reasonable doubt. It is only appropriate that the accused should have an opportunity to assign as errors for review objections he may have to this degree of guilt proceeding. See Commonwealth v. Walters, 431 Pa. 74, 77 n.1, 244 A.2d 757, 759 n.1 (1968); Commonwealth v. Stokes, supra, 426 Pa. at 268 n.5, 232 A.2d at 194 n.5. This is exactly the situation before us in this appeal: the appellant does not challenge the validity of her guilty plea; nor does she claim that the allegedly coerced confessions induced her guilty plea; her only assignment for error is the correctness of admitting into evidence in the degree of guilt hearing statements which she claims were procured by the district attorney without complying with the standards in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602 (1966). The challenge to the statements

[ 432 Pa. Page 431]

    is properly before us and we shall proceed to a determination on the merits.

In order to fully understand appellant's contention, the factual setting surrounding this statement is crucial. Officers of the local police force were summoned to the apartment of a neighbor of the appellant the day after the murder. The neighbor wanted to point out to them bloodstains which were apparently left on the door when appellant came upstairs the night before to use the neighbor's phone. As the two policemen were leaving the apartment building they met the appellant leaving the same building with another couple. When asked where she was going, she replied that she was taking a short vacation. The police officers then requested that she come down to the police station first so that the chief of police could talk to her. She was given a choice of coming down in her own car or joining the police; she chose the latter.

At the police station, Chief Bink questioned appellant for approximately one hour, until he acquired a feeling that she was involved in the case.*fn2 At this point the chief ceased all discussions with her that were in any way connected with the crime and she was then placed alone in the Borough Council Chamber for about one and one half hours. It was now about 9:00 P.M. and the district attorney finally had secured an operating tape recorder. She was first ...


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