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COMMONWEALTH v. RAVENELL (06/28/72)

decided: June 28, 1972.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
RAVENELL, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, May T., 1969, No. 378, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. James Ravenell.

COUNSEL

Morris H. Wolff, with him Stassen and Kostos, 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, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Nix. Mr. Justice Manderino concurs in the result.

Author: Nix

[ 448 Pa. Page 165]

On the evening of February 22, 1969, a street fight erupted between rival gangs in the vicinity of 8th Street and Columbia Avenue in Philadelphia. During the course of the battle, one of the participants, Marvin Smith, was shot and killed. The police, after interrogating a number of known gang members, ascertained from them that appellant, James Ravenell, was involved in the shooting. Appellant was taken into custody from his home early the next day, February 23, 1969, and charged with the murder of Marvin Smith.

On January 30, 1970, appellant filed a motion to suppress a confession which he had given to the police on February 23, 1969. Appellant alleged that he did not waive his right to have counsel present during interrogation and that the confession he signed was the product of police coercion. At the conclusion of the hearing on the motion to suppress, the hearing judge dismissed the petition. Appellant was subsequently tried before a judge and a jury and was found guilty of murder in the second degree. Post-trial motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment were denied and on September 17, 1971, appellant was sentenced to imprisonment for not less than five nor more than twenty years. This appeal followed.

[ 448 Pa. Page 166]

I. Suppression Hearing

Appellant first argues that the Commonwealth did not meet its burden of proof at the hearing on appellant's motion to suppress his confession. It is also argued that the hearing judge did not make specific findings at the close of the hearing which is a violation of the procedural requirements established in Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964). From an examination of the record before us we find both of these contentions to be without merit.

With respect to the burden of proof at the suppression hearing, it is clear that the burden is on the Commonwealth to come forward with the evidence and to establish the admissibility of the challenged evidence. Rules 323(h), Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, as amended, 19 P.S. Appendix. It is equally clear that the precise burden upon the Commonwealth is to prove by a preponderance of the credible evidence that a confession is voluntary. It is not necessary that the voluntariness be established beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth ex rel. Butler v. Rundle, 429 Pa. 141, 144-48, 239 A.2d 426, 428-29 (1968). The record supports the conclusion that the Commonwealth did prove the voluntariness of the appellant's confession by a preponderance of the credible evidence.

Briefly stated, the record of the suppression hearing discloses these pertinent facts: On February 23, 1969, at approximately 4:45 A.M., James Ravenell was arrested at his home by several police officers, including the two witnesses that the Commonwealth produced at the hearing, Detective Melfi and Officer Thornhill. As Detective Melfi placed appellant in the rear of an unmarked vehicle he gave him the full Miranda warnings. Ravenell was then transferred to a police wagon and taken to the Homicide Division in the Police Administration Building. At about 6:00 A.M. the Miranda

[ 448 Pa. Page 167]

    warnings were given for the second time and appellant again indicated that he understood his rights. At approximately 8:00 A.M., subsequent to giving the Miranda warnings a third time, Detective Melfi and Officer Thornhill commenced taking appellant's statement on a typewriter. Appellant read the entire statement which amounted to an admission that he deliberately shot the deceased, Marvin Smith. He then signed every page and later read the entire statement into a tape recorder.

Approximately one year later, on January 30, 1970, Ravenell filed a motion to suppress his confession alleging that it was the product of police coercion and therefore not voluntary. At the hearing appellant testified that he was punched and slapped on several occasions while at the Police Administration Building and made and signed the confession so that he would not be physically punished any further. In appellant's behalf two friends, one a participating gang member and the other a childhood friend then confined to the Detention Center, testified that appellant told them he was beaten by the police prior to his confession. Both witnesses agreed that Ravenell's face appeared "kind of" or "slightly" swollen. Detective Melfi and Officer Thornhill testified to the chronological sequence of events prior to the appellant's signing his confession and both unequivocally denied any physical coercion by the police.

At the conclusion of this lengthy hearing and after hearing argument of counsel,*fn1 the hearing judge dismissed appellant's petition. Contrary to appellant's secondary contention that no specific findings were made, the hearing judge then concluded that ...


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