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COMMONWEALTH v. AMOS (12/20/71)

decided: December 20, 1971.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
AMOS, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Feb. T., 1968, No. 780, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Cleveland Amos.

COUNSEL

John David Egnal, for appellant.

Benjamin H. Levintow, Assistant District Attorney, with him Milton M. Stein, Assistant District Attorney, James D. Crawford, Deputy District Attorney, Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and Arlen Specter, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Jones, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy and Barbieri, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Barbieri. Mr. Chief Justice Bell took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Barbieri

[ 445 Pa. Page 299]

This is an appeal from a judgment of sentence of ten to twenty years entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County upon a verdict of second degree murder following denial by the Court en banc of defendant's motion for a new trial.

[ 445 Pa. Page 300]

There is no dispute that appellant shot and killed the decedent. The only question to be decided at trial was whether or not appellant acted in self-defense. The jury's verdict was that he did not.

Appellant raises numerous allegations of trial errors, four of which we think merit discussion. Two of these require that the case be retried.

1. Necessity for Instructions on the Prosecution's Use of Defendant's Criminal Record

We consider first the question of whether or not it was reversible error for the trial court to fail to give cautionary instructions, as requested, on the limited purpose for which the defendant's criminal record could be used by the prosecution. The Commonwealth used defendant's record during cross-examination of the defendant's character witnesses, purportedly to test the extent of the witnesses' knowledge of the defendant's reputation. It is well settled that "character witnesses may legitimately be questioned as to whether or not they ever heard persons in the neighborhood attribute particular offenses to the defendant." Commonwealth v. Jenkins, 413 Pa. 606, 607, 608, 198 A.2d 497, 498 (1964). (Emphasis in original) Thus, the Commonwealth could properly ask defendant's character witnesses if they had heard others in the neighborhood say that the defendant had been convicted of, or even just arrested for, various felonies and misdemeanors. See Michelson v. United States, 335 U.S. 469, 69 S. Ct. 213, 93 L.E. 168 (1948); Commonwealth v. Jenkins, supra; 111 A Wigmore on Evidence ยง 988 (Rev. Third Edition (1970)).

Of course, the potentially prejudicial effect of the introduction of the defendant's record requires that the jury be made aware of the limited purpose of such evidence. ...


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