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COMMONWEALTH v. SHARPE (10/04/72)

decided: October 4, 1972.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
SHARPE, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Oyer and Terminer, of Philadelphia County, April T., 1967, No. 1545, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Ralph N. Sharpe.

COUNSEL

Louis W. Fryman, with him Steven J. Hartz, and Becker, Fryman & Ervais, for appellant.

Benjamin H. Levintow, Assistant District Attorney, with him William H. Wolf, Jr. 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.

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

Author: Jones

[ 449 Pa. Page 37]

On March 22, 1968, following a jury trial in the Philadelphia Court of Oyer and Terminer, appellant was convicted of murder in the first degree for the killing of one Helen Robinson. The jury fixed the penalty at death. Post-trial motions were argued and denied by the court en banc. From the imposition of sentence, appellant perfected this appeal.

During the morning of February 16, 1967, the police were summoned to a home at 6201 Ellsworth Street, Philadelphia. There they discovered the victim in a second floor bedroom, covered with blood from numerous wounds about the head and suffering from a bullet wound in the side. Mrs. Robinson, conscious at the time, gave the police a description of her assailant. Minutes later the same officers noticed appellant walking approximately five blocks from the scene. The police arrested appellant and a search of the bag he was carrying revealed a handgun containing one spent round and five live rounds, a box of cartridges, a pinch bar and a screwdriver. At police headquarters, appellant was questioned and gave a confession in which he admitted he had broken into the house but contended

[ 449 Pa. Page 38]

    the shooting was accidental. The victim died shortly after being removed to the hospital. The cause of death was loss of blood caused by the bullet wound in her side.

Appellant raises five main contentions of error which shall be treated seriatim.

Initially, appellant argues the lower court committed reversible error by refusing to caution the jury with respect to the meaning of the phrase "in the street" contained in appellant's confession, which was admitted into evidence and read to the jury. When questioned by the police concerning the duration of his drug habit, appellant answered "ever since I was ten or eleven. At least the time I spent in the street."

The rule is well established that evidence of an unrelated crime is inadmissible to prove commission of the offense for which the defendant is currently charged. Commonwealth v. Chalfa, 313 Pa. 175, 169 A. 564 (1933); Commonwealth v. McKenna, 206 Pa. Superior Ct. 317, 213 A.2d 223 (1965); Commonwealth v. Sindel, 205 Pa. Superior Ct. 355, 208 A.2d 894 (1965). Appellant contends the phrase "in the street" is a well-known expression indicating time spent out of prison and, consequently, to admit the phrase absent cautioning instructions permitted the jury to surmise that appellant had committed other crimes. We do not agree. We have serious doubts whether any of the jurors were aware of the meaning appellant would have us place on these three words. Appellant admits the phrase is commonly used by habitual offenders. With the phrase enjoying such limited exposure, the court below was correct in refusing to ...


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