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COMMONWEALTH v. RIGGINS (05/04/73)

decided: May 4, 1973.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
RIGGINS, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, March T., 1969, No. 253, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Louis Riggins.

COUNSEL

Joseph Alessandroni, with him Alfred P. Filippone, for appellant.

Benjamin H. Levintow, Assistant District Attorney, with him Milton M. Stein, Assistant 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 Roberts. Mr. Justice Eagen and Mr. Justice Pomeroy concur in the result. Mr. Chief Justice Jones dissents.

Author: Roberts

[ 451 Pa. Page 521]

Appellant, Louis Riggins, was indicted in March of 1969 for murder, robbery and conspiracy to commit murder and robbery. A timely filed pre-trial motion to suppress evidence (appellant's oral and written confessions) was denied. Thereafter, in March, 1970, appellant, following a jury trial, was found guilty of first degree murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment.*fn1 Post-trial motions were denied by the court en banc. This direct appeal followed.

Appellant here contends that the court below improperly refused to suppress an oral and written confession obtained from appellant through unlawful and coercive means.*fn2 For the reasons set out below we agree, and accordingly reverse and remand for a new trial.*fn3

[ 451 Pa. Page 522]

"Our task on review, . . . [of a suppression hearing] is to consider only 'the evidence of the prosecution's witnesses and so much of the evidence for the defense as, fairly read in the context of the record as a whole, remains uncontradicted.' Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. supra at 604." Commonwealth ex rel. Butler v. Rundle, 429 Pa. 141, 149-50, 239 A.2d 426, 430 (1968). Applying this standard, the following facts appear: On January 24, 1969, at 4:15 a.m., appellant's home was searched (pursuant to a warrant) and appellant, a 17-year-old, was taken into custody by detectives who were investigating the recent robbery and murder of Charles Bonami, a Philadelphia gas station operator. Appellant concedes that probable cause existed for his arrest, based on his earlier attempt to cash one of the checks stolen during the robbery.*fn4

Enroute to the Police Administration Building, at approximately 5:00 a.m., appellant was first advised of his Miranda rights.*fn5 Upon arrival, appellant was placed in a small "interview" room, furnished with only chairs and a table. Formal interrogation began at 5:30 a.m. and continued until 7:00 a.m.; appellant, from the beginning, denied any complicity in the Bonami matter. Appellant was then isolated for an hour and forty-five minutes. Questioning began again at 8:45 a.m., and lasted until 11:00 a.m.; during these initial periods of interrogation, as many as four detectives were present and actively involved in the questioning.

From 11:00 a.m. until 11:15 a.m., appellant was questioned by only one detective, Henry Brown. Thereafter,

[ 451 Pa. Page 523]

    from 11:15 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., appellant was subjected to a polygraph examination. Interrogation resumed at 1:00 p.m., and at 1:30 p.m., after being confronted with the "results" of the polygraph test, appellant confessed only to having attempted to cash the stolen Bonami check. Questioning continued, uninterrupted until 2:50 p.m.; appellant was then given a hamburger and coffee, his first food since at least 4:15 a.m. At 3:45 p.m., appellant was taken to await a lineup on the ...


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