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COMMONWEALTH v. WILLIAMS (06/15/72)

decided: June 15, 1972.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
WILLIAMS, APPELLANT



Appeals from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Aug. T., 1970, Nos. 1492, 1493, 1494, 1496, 1497, 1498, 1499, 1500, 1502, 2246, 2247, 2249, 2250, 2251 and 2252, and Dec. T., 1970, No. 881, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. John Williams.

COUNSEL

Lee Mandell, and Charleston & Fenerty, for appellant.

Melvin Dildine and Milton M. Stein, Assistant District Attorneys, James D. Crawford, Deputy District Attorney, Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and Arlen Specter, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Wright, P. J., Watkins, Jacobs, Hoffman, Spaulding, Cercone, and Packel, JJ. Opinion by Cercone, J.

Author: Cercone

[ 221 Pa. Super. Page 354]

This is an appeal from the lower court's refusal to grant appellant's motions for new trial and in arrest of judgment after conviction and sentence on seventeen separate indictments covering the offenses of riot by prisoner, riotous destruction of property, assault and battery, and aggravated assault and battery, all of which indictments arose out of defendant's participation in a riot which occurred in Holmesburg Prison on July 4, 1970.

Defendant presents numerous arguments all of which, after careful study and consideration, we have determined to be without merit.

Appellant first claims that the trial court refused extensive scope of voir dire examination and that this refusal constituted palpable abuse of discretion. Our study of the record and the application of governing law causes us to disagree with this argument. The trial

[ 221 Pa. Super. Page 355]

    judge personally conducted the individual examination of the veniremen. He asked prospective jurors questions such as: "Now, it may appear from the evidence in this case that this matter has racial overtones, and it may also appear from some of the evidence in this case that the defendant was at the time of the occurrence incarcerated or committed to a County Prison. Would either one or both of those reasons cause you to be biased or prejudiced against the defendant and thus deprive him of a fair trial by your hands?" Each juror was asked: "Do you know of any reason in your personal life that would cause you to have any bias or prejudice against him whatsoever?" To each of these questions the jurors answered "No.". With regard to the jurors' ability to evaluate the credibility of police officers' testimony fairly without attaching any special weight to their testimony, a matter as to which defendant specifically complains, the trial court asked the jury panel as a group to indicate whether they had any relatives or close friends with any law enforcement agencies. Those who indicated in the affirmative were noted by the court and further questioned as to possible influence that relationship might have in evaluating the credibility of police witnesses. For example, the record shows one of the colloquies between the trial judge and a prospective juror to be as follows: "By the Court: Q. I overlooked this, Miss Latour while questioning you that you had indicated you are in some way related to a law enforcement officer, or police officer. Would you explain that to the court? A. A girlfriend of mine works for the F.B.I. She does clerical work. Q. Is she related to you? A. No, sir. Q. Is she a very close friend? A. She is a close friend. Q. Have you ever discussed her duties with her? A. No, sir. Q. Have you ever discussed the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation with her? A. No, sir.

[ 221 Pa. Super. Page 356]

Q. Do you feel that this friendship would in any way influence your judgment in this case? A. No, sir. Q. It would be your duty to determine the credibility, the veracity, the truthfulness of each and every witness in this case that comes before you. Could you apply the same standard and test for all law enforcement officers that you would to any other citizen? A. Yes, sir. The Court: Very well." The voir dire was extensive enough to rule out any possible undue influence upon the jury of police testimony. We find no abuse of discretion by the court in its rulings on voir dire.

Nor can we find any systematic exclusion of Negroes from the panel of the petit jury as contended by defendant. The record indicates that of the first jury panel of thirty veniremen nine were Negroes, and that of the second panel of twenty-one veniremen six were Negroes. It was the burden of the defendant to prove the existence of purposeful discrimination with respect to excluding Negroes from the jury panel: Whitus v. Georgia, 385 U.S. 545, at 549-550 (1967). No proof of intentional design to exclude Negroes from the jury panel was shown by defendant. Our Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently held in a case in which there had been no Negroes on the panel from which the jury to try defendant was chosen that there was no violation of defendant's constitutional ...


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