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COMMONWEALTH v. BOYKIN (12/20/72)

decided: December 20, 1972.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
BOYKIN, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, March T., 1971, No. 314, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Margaret Boykin.

COUNSEL

Robert J. Shenkin, 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 O'Brien. Mr. Justice Manderino concurs in the result. Concurring Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Chief Justice Jones joins in this concurring opinion. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Nix.

Author: O'brien

[ 450 Pa. Page 26]

On January 12, 1971, Bruce Carlisle, a four-month-old infant, was found dead by members of the Philadelphia Police Department responding to an emergency call from the residence of appellant, Margaret Boykin. A police officer observed a large spot of what appeared to be "dried blood" on the appellant's white blouse. A post-mortem examination of the infant's body, conducted by the medical examiner, disclosed that the infant died from "suffocation".

The following day, appellant, who had been caring for the baby for some weeks prior to his death, was interrogated by the Philadelphia Police Department Homicide Division, concerning the death. Appellant was given the required warnings, after which she gave a statement, which was typed by a police detective, in

[ 450 Pa. Page 27]

    which she admitted that she had held the baby's head against her chest to stop him from crying. In this statement, she conceded that she had held the baby "excessively tight" but stated that she did not realize this until she noticed blood from the baby's nose on her blouse. In her signed statement, she admitted that earlier versions she had given the police orally concerning the incident "were lies". This statement was signed at 3:10 a.m.

Three and one-half hours later, appellant orally admitted to a detective that when she held the infant tightly against her shoulder, she knew that "it would smother him". She further admitted that she "deliberately smothered" the infant. Following the oral admission of her culpability for the death of Bruce Carlisle, she orally confessed to the deliberate smotherings of two other infants.

Appellant was indicted on charges stemming from the deaths of each of the three infants. The three cases were severed, on motion of appellant's counsel, and having waived a jury trial, appellant was tried non-jury on October 27, 1971, on the indictments relating to the death of Bruce Carlisle. After a four-day trial, appellant was adjudged guilty of voluntary manslaughter. After denial of her post-trial motions, appellant was sentenced to a term of imprisonment not to exceed ten years. This appeal followed.

Appellant first argues that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the verdict. However, the appellant's oral admission that she knowingly smothered the infant and the medical examiner's testimony that suffocating was, in fact, the cause of the infant's death, amply support the court's verdict. Consequently, the principal question in this case is whether appellant's oral confession was properly admitted into evidence. Appellant raises two separate contentions in her challenge to the admissibility of her confession.

[ 450 Pa. Page 28]

She first contends that the statement should not have been admitted because her purported waiver of her rights to remain silent and to have the advice of counsel was constitutionally ineffective because she had not been informed of the nature of the crime for which she was being questioned. In support of this contention, appellant emphasizes that at the pretrial suppression hearing, the Commonwealth's police witnesses admitted that they had never told appellant specifically that she was suspected of having murdered the Carlisle baby. Instead, she was simply told the officers "were investigating the [baby's] death".

Appellant relies on our opinion in Commonwealth v. Collins, 436 Pa. 114, 121, 259 A.2d 160 (1969), where we said that "an intelligent and understanding waiver of the right to counsel is impossible where the defendant has not been informed of the crime which is being investigated."

However, regardless of the precedential value of our decision in Collins,*fn1 it is easily distinguishable from the instant case. Here, the evidence shows that the appellant was told, more than once, that the police were investigating the death of the Carlisle baby. We believe that this is sufficient to alert the appellant to the fact that she was involved in a possible criminal homicide case, since she knew that the police would not have investigated the baby's death unless a crime were suspected. The fact that the appellant was not told that the police suspected that a specific degree of homicide, or negligent manslaughter, had been committed makes no difference. Before the appellant made her oral confession, the police could only suspect that the baby's death was caused by some criminal conduct. They had no valid reason for specifying that they suspected an intentional rather than a negligent homicide.

[ 450 Pa. Page 29]

Appellant next argues that her statement should not have been admitted because the Commonwealth failed to prove the corpus delicti. To support her contention that no corpus delicti was established, appellant asserts that absent hearsay elements in the opinion of the medical examiner that the cause of death was unnatural,*fn2 the evidence only proved a death consistent with both accidental and criminal causes.*fn3 Under Pennsylvania law, that is all the Commonwealth had to do. See Commonwealth v. Gockley, 411 Pa. 437, 192 ...


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