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COMMONWEALTH v. GROCE (05/04/73)

decided: May 4, 1973.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
GROCE, APPELLANT



Appeals from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Sept. T., 1969, Nos. 83 to 89, inclusive, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Wesley Groce.

COUNSEL

John J. Duffy, for appellant.

Philip J. O'Malley, Assistant District Attorney, with him Ralph B. D'Iorio, Assistant District Attorney, and Stephen J. McEwen, Jr., District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen. Mr. Justice Manderino concurs in the result. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Pomeroy. Mr. Chief Justice Jones joins in this dissenting opinion.

Author: Eagen

[ 452 Pa. Page 16]

Wesley Groce was convicted by a jury of murder in the first degree, and the punishment was fixed at life imprisonment. Post-trial motions were denied, and sentence was imposed as the jury directed. These appeals followed.*fn1

The prosecution stemmed from the attempted robbery of John Courtney and Joseph O'Brien, Esq., in Media, Delaware County, on April 7, 1969, by three young males. During the occurrence Courtney was fatally shot by one of the felons. O'Brien was stabbed and shot, but eventually recovered from the wounds.

[ 452 Pa. Page 17]

Several assignments of error are asserted, but only one necessitates discussion.

During the trial testimony of a Commonwealth witness, the Chief of Police of Media, the following occurred: "Q. [District Attorney]: When the defendant was arrested, did you have occasion to bring him to the Media Police Station? A. Sir, he came in on his own. Q. As a result of what? A. Through our investigation and a door-to-door check, we came up with the name Nino. Then at this point . . . [Mr. Duffy]: I object to that, sir, and move to strike. The Court: Overruled. [By Mr. Reilly]: Q. Go ahead. A. During our door-to-door and house-to-house check, we came up with the name Nino. Then I started to get my mind working, because in the years I have been a police officer I heard the name Nino before. I went through a great deal of my files, and all of a sudden I thought of the name Groce, and this is where we came to the conclusion that Nino was Groce."

The appellant contends this testimony was prejudicial and rose to the level of reversible error, because the jury could reasonably believe he had a past criminal record. With this contention we agree.

The law is clear that as a general rule the Commonwealth cannot introduce evidence of distinct crimes against a defendant in a prosecution for a separate offense. The rule and its underlying theory were stated in Commonwealth v. Burdell, 380 Pa. 43, 110 A.2d 193 (1955), wherein this Court stated: "One of our most fundamental and prized principles in the administration of criminal law is that a distinct crime, except under certain special circumstances, cannot be given in evidence against a defendant who is being tried for another crime. This is because the fact that a person has committed ...


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