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COMMONWEALTH EX REL. RIGGINS v. SUPERINTENDENT PHILADELPHIA PRISONS (03/26/70)

decided: March 26, 1970.

COMMONWEALTH EX REL. RIGGINS, APPELLANT,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT OF PHILADELPHIA PRISONS



Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, July T., 1969, No. H. C. 152, in case of Commonwealth ex rel. Louis Riggins v. Superintendent of Philadelphia Prisons.

COUNSEL

Brian E. Appel, with him Harold L. Randolph, for appellant.

James D. Crawford, Assistant District Attorney, with him David Richman, Assistant District Attorney, Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and Arlen Specter, District Attorney, for appellee.

Bell, C. J., Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Bell. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts.

Author: Bell

[ 438 Pa. Page 162]

This case involves the challenged right of the President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia to assign specially a Judge of the Trial Division of that Court to sit as a committing magistrate on the rearrest of a juvenile charged with murder and related crimes.

Louis Riggins, at the age of seventeen, was charged with murder and given a preliminary hearing on December

[ 438 Pa. Page 16317]

, 1968, before Judge Montemuro of the then Juvenile Court Division of the Philadelphia County Court. Judge Montemuro discharged Riggins, ruling that a prima facie case had not been made out; from this Order the Commonwealth appealed to this Court. This Court quashed the appeal as interlocutory: Riggins Case, 435 Pa. 321, 254 A.2d 616.

Thereafter, Riggins was rearrested and was again charged with the same murder. A preliminary hearing was held before Judge Sloane, one of the Judges of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division. At this hearing, Riggins was held without bail for action by the grand jury. A pretrial petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed in Riggins's behalf, which raised the following questions: (1) was Judge Sloane's Order a nullity because, as a Common Pleas Trial Division Judge, he had no authority, power or jurisdiction to sit as a committing magistrate to hear matters involving juveniles; and (2) was Riggins deprived of his Constitutional rights, especially the equal-protection and the due-process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, since the assignment of Judge Sloane to sit as a committing magistrate was (a) at variance with the established custom and practice in Philadelphia and (b) beyond the power of the President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas.

[ 438 Pa. Page 164]

Riggins's petition for a writ of habeas corpus was denied by the lower Court, and from the Order denying his petition Riggins took this appeal. The Commonwealth has moved to quash the appeal on each and both of the following grounds. First, the Commonwealth contends that an Order denying a pretrial petition for a writ of habeas corpus is interlocutory and unappealable. Secondly, the Commonwealth contends that the question on appeal is now moot because more than a month before Riggins took his appeal to this Page 164} Court, he was indicted by a grand jury for murder, aggravated assault and battery, assault and battery with intent to murder, carrying a concealed deadly weapon, unlawfully carrying a firearm without a license, and conspiracy. The Commonwealth further contends that the case is now moot because Riggins is no longer a juvenile and a decision in his favor in the present appeal would simply result in his rearrest and a hearing before a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, and his subsequent reindictment by a grand jury.

In Commonwealth ex rel. Boatwright v. Hendrick, 436 Pa. 336, 260 A.2d 763, we recently considered the right of appeal from the denial of a pretrial habeas corpus petition, and there laid down the following principles (pages 338-339): "In cases involving criminal proceedings, an Order by a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, denying, before indictment,*fn* a writ of habeas corpus where the ground of appeal is the lack of adequate evidence to establish a prima facie case of crime by the accused, is interlocutory and unappealable and must be quashed: Commonwealth ex rel. Gordy v. Lyons, 434 Pa. 165, 252 A.2d 197; Commonwealth ex rel. Bittner v. Price, 428 Pa. 5, 235 A.2d 357; Commonwealth ex rel. Fisher v. Stitzel, 418 Pa. 356, 211 A.2d 457; in the absence of exceptional circumstances (as, for example, cases involving great public interest or the safeguarding of basic human rights, Commonwealth v. Kilgallen, 379 Pa. 315, 108 A.2d 780; Commonwealth v. Byrd, 421 Pa. 513, 219 A.2d 293, cert. denied, 385 U.S. 886); or, unless expressly made so by statute, Commonwealth v. Pollick, 420 Pa. 61, 215 A.2d 904; Commonwealth v. Wright, 383 Pa. 532, 119 A.2d 492; or a challenge to appellant's custody on grounds of lack of jurisdiction, Commonwealth ex rel. DiDio

[ 438 Pa. Page 165]

    v. Baldi, 176 Pa. Superior Ct. 119, 106 A.2d 910; Commonwealth ex rel. Nichols v. Hendrick, 197 Pa. ...


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