Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Nov. T., 1971, Nos. 1621 and 1622, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Mack Truesdale.
James D. Crawford, Deputy District Attorney, and H. Rosenberger, II, Assistant Attorney General, with them Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and Arlen Specter, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, petitioner.
A. Benjamin Johnson, Dennis H. Eisman, Joseph M. Smith and Louis Lipschitz, with them Abraham T. Needleman, Gerald A. Stein, Jack Levine, Needleman, Needleman, Tabb & Eisman and Fitzpatrick & Smith, for respondent.
Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen. Mr. Chief Justice Jones dissents.
On October 20, 1971, Blanche Buchler was shot and killed in front of her home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Three days later respondent, Mack Truesdale, was arrested by the Philadelphia police and charged with murder and conspiracy in connection with the killing. Thereafter, on October 27, 1971, Truesdale was afforded a preliminary hearing and, after the presentation of evidence, was bound over for the grand jury. At this hearing it was further determined that bail should be denied because the proof was evident and the presumption great, and the offense rose to the level of murder in the first degree, and pursuant to Article 1, Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution the offense being a capital one was not bailable. On November 8, 1971, Truesdale petitioned the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia for a writ of habeas corpus alleging he was improperly being detained; the petition was subsequently denied with the court finding that his detention was proper. On December 2, 1971, Truesdale was indicted on the charges of murder and conspiracy, in connection with the death of Blanche Buchler, by a
grand jury and is now awaiting trial on the indictments.
Thereafter, certain pretrial proceedings took place and on June 30, 1972, Truesdale made another application for his release on bail. The foundation of his new application rested on the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S. Ct. 2726 (1972), which abolished the death penalty as it theretofore had existed in Pennsylvania. A hearing was held, and the trial court granted bail in the amount of ten thousand dollars.
The Commonwealth immediately filed a petition in this Court requesting the assumption of plenary jurisdiction pursuant to Section 205 of the Appellate Court Jurisdiction Act, Act of July 31, 1970, P. L. 673, Art. II, § 205, 17 P.S. § 211.205,*fn1 and Truesdale joined in the request. A rule to show cause issued and argument was held on Saturday, July 29, 1972. The sole question presented is whether a defendant who is awaiting trial on the charge of murder, which rises to the level of murder in the first degree, has a right to bail pending trial. We assume plenary jurisdiction and now proceed to a determination of the issue on the merits.
Article 1, Section 14 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania of 1968*fn2 provides the following with respect to bailable offenses: "All prisoners shall be bailable by
sufficient sureties, unless for capital offenses when the proof is evident or presumption great . . . ."*fn3 Consequently, the Constitution of the Commonwealth mandates all persons have a right to be released on bail prior to trial in all cases except those involving capital offenses. In the recent past this has meant that all persons, except those charged with murder in the first degree,*fn4 had a right to bail while awaiting trial, subject to the accused giving adequate assurance he would appear for trial. If a person was charged with murder which rose to the level of murder in the first degree, he could be denied bail when the proof was evident or the presumption great.*fn5 This result was dictated by the decisions of this Court which have consistently interpreted the constitutional phrase "capital offense" ...