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COMMONWEALTH v. SMITH (05/25/72)

decided: May 25, 1972.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
SMITH, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, June T., 1969, No. 425, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Ralph Smith.

COUNSEL

Roy H. Davis, for appellant.

Romer Holleran, 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 and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Pomeroy. The former Mr. Chief Justice Bell and the former Mr. Justice Barbieri took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Pomeroy

[ 447 Pa. Page 459]

At approximately 9:00 A.M. on Sunday, April 20, 1969, Bobby Jean Petty was fatally shot through the head at her mother's apartment in Philadelphia. The incident was immediately reported to the police who broadcast a city-wide radio alert, describing appellant and his automobile. About 9:20 A.M. appellant was observed by a detective, and after a high-speed chase along the Schuylkill Expressway was stopped and arrested about four miles from the scene of the crime. A .38 calibre pistol, later identified as the murder weapon, was recovered from the front seat of his car. Appellant was taken to the police station where he was given full Miranda*fn1 warnings and allowed to telephone his wife. At 2:30 P.M. on the same day, appellant signed a seven-page confession. This statement was held voluntary following a suppression hearing, and over objection at trial it was admitted into evidence.

Appellant was convicted by a jury of murder in the first degree and his sentence fixed at life imprisonment. Following the denial of post-trial motions, this appeal was taken. It is asserted that the statement given to the police was the result of coercion and should have been suppressed, and that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. We disagree.

I.

Appellant contends that at the time his confession was taken he was too intoxicated to understand the constitutional warnings, thereby rendering involuntary

[ 447 Pa. Page 460]

    his waiver and subsequent statement. The fact that an accused has been drinking does not automatically invalidate his subsequent incriminating statements. The test is whether he had sufficient mental capacity at the time of giving his statement to know what he was saying and to have voluntarily intended to say it. Recent imbibing or the existence of a hangover does not make his confession inadmissible, but goes only to the weight to be accorded to it. See United States v. Martin, 434 F. 2d 275 (5th Cir. 1970); United States v. Kershner, 432 F. 2d 1066 (5th Cir. 1970); 2 Wharton's Criminal Law (12th Ed.) ยง 388 (Cum. Supp. 1970).

The evidence presented at appellant's suppression hearing conflicted. The Commonwealth offered the testimony of two detectives who had interrogated appellant at the police station. Both testified that although he appeared to have been drinking and was nervous and shaky, appellant was alert and responsive, and at no time failed to understand the nature of the interrogation or the questions asked of him.

Appellant offered the testimony of his wife that on the Saturday night and early Sunday morning here involved he had been drinking heavily. Appellant himself testified that he had had several drinks at the victim's home and when apprehended by the police requested and was granted permission to finish the remaining one-half of a fifth of whiskey which was on the car seat. He insisted that he had passed out at the police station and had no recollection of any events which transpired there, including the three-hour interrogation and the signing of his name to a total of twenty-one pages of confession (seven pages in triplicate). Appellant's son ...


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