Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Nov. T., 1967, Nos. 1007 to 1010, inclusive, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Rocco Turra.
James D. Crawford, Deputy District Attorney, with him Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and Arlen Specter, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellant.
Stephen H. Serota, for appellee.
Jones, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy and Barbieri, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen. Mr. Chief Justice Bell took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
This is an appeal by the Commonwealth from an order entered in the court below suppressing evidence of an oral incriminating admission, allegedly made by Rocco Turra, who is awaiting trial in Philadelphia on indictments charging him with murder and other related crimes.
The facts necessary to a disposition of the present appeal are not in dispute and may be summarized as follows:
Turra's trial was listed for November 16, 1970. In the course of a pretrial statement to the court, outlining the Commonwealth's case, the assistant district attorney disclosed that the Commonwealth intended to introduce the testimony of a witness to whom Turra had allegedly orally admitted that he participated in the killing upon which the prosecution was based. This was the first time the district attorney's office had
given any indication that such evidence was available, and counsel for Turra, expressing surprise at this new development, orally requested the court to order the Commonwealth to disclose pretrial the circumstances of the admission. Without the issue being resolved, the trial was continued until the next day.
On November 17th, at a pretrial conference in chambers, Turra's counsel renewed his motion of the preceding day. The motion was opposed by the Commonwealth, and the court desirous of further time to consider the issue, again delayed the beginning of the trial.
On November 18th, another pretrial conference developed during which extended argument occurred pro and con as to the right of Turra to pretrial discovery of evidence in the possession of the Commonwealth. Rule 310 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, and our decision in Commonwealth v. Caplan, 411 Pa. 563, 192 A.2d 894 (1963) were discussed, and the trial judge indicated that, in the absence of a showing of exceptional circumstances, he could not order the discovery requested. Whereupon, counsel for Turra stated that he was seeking not only discovery, but sufficient knowledge of the circumstances of the incriminating admission so that a proper motion to suppress the evidence thereof might be prepared and filed. The court then directed the parties to apply themselves to the "area of the law which goes to suppression." Counsel for Turra then orally moved the court to suppress the evidence, and with that court adjourned for the day.
When court resumed on November 19th, the assistant district attorney urged the court to reject the motion to suppress for failure to comply with Rule 323 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure. As an alternative, the assistant district attorney ...