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COMMONWEALTH v. JOHNSON (05/23/73)

decided: May 23, 1973.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
JOHNSON, APPELLANT



Appeals from judgments of sentence of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, Jan. T., 1971, Nos. 295, 296, 297 and 299, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Samuel Lee Johnson.

COUNSEL

James R. Adams, for appellant.

Maxine J. Stotland 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, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Nix.

Author: Nix

[ 452 Pa. Page 132]

Appellant, Samuel Lee Johnson, was arrested on September 14, 1970, and indicted for murder, aggravated robbery, forcible rape, burglary and conspiracy. In May of 1971, after a motion to suppress his confession was denied, a jury found appellant guilty on all of the above charges except forcible rape, to which a demurrer was sustained. Following the denial of post-trial motions, he was sentenced to life imprisonment on the indictment charging murder, ten to twenty years on both the aggravated robbery and burglary indictments, each sentence to run concurrently with the sentence imposed on the murder indictment, and sentence was suspended on the conspiracy bill. This direct appeal followed from the imposition of sentence.*fn1

The first assignment of error is directed to the lower court's admission of an alleged written statement of the appellant. The challenge is bottomed upon alternative bases: First, that the testimony offered during the suppression hearing was so conflicting that the record does not sustain the finding of the court below that the statement was voluntary. Secondly, it is urged that the written statement merely represents a "conglomeration of extracts from two hours of conversation, the major part of which we know absolutely nothing about."

Considering first the claim that the record is so contradictory and incomplete that as a matter of law the court should have suppressed the statement, we find that argument to be without support on this record. While there are some conflicts in the testimony as to the circumstances surrounding the challenged

[ 452 Pa. Page 133]

    statement, they were not of such proportion or quality that a hearing judge would have been forced to reject the Commonwealth's position that the statement was voluntary and not coerced. After reviewing the record we are satisfied that there was ample basis for the lower court's finding that the statement was the product of the will of appellant and not coerced.

In reviewing the findings of a suppression court, we have recently observed that "[t]he question is one of fact initially to be determined by the trial court and where, as here, the suppression court's findings have ample support in the record, we cannot say that the court erred as a matter of law in concluding the confession was admissible." Commonwealth v. Sharpe, 449 Pa. 35, 44, 296 A.2d 519, 524 (1972). See Commonwealth v. Stafford, 451 Pa. 95, 301 A.2d 600 (1973); Commonwealth v. Eiland, 450 Pa. 566, 301 A.2d 651 (1973); Commonwealth v. Harmon, 440 Pa. 195, 269 A.2d 744 (1970). The evidence offered by the Commonwealth clearly established that appellant was fully advised of his constitutional rights and was subjected to neither improper inducements or promises, nor to threats of force or coercion from the interrogating officers. The record is barren of any evidence of either physical or psychological coercion that would render the statement inadmissible.

The second claim, which suggests that the statement was not an accurate reflection of the words of the appellant, goes not to the competency of the questioned statement but rather to the credibility to be given to that document. See, e.g., United States v. Myers, 384 F. 2d 737, 742 (3d Cir. 1967); Commonwealth v. Carluccetti, 369 Pa. 190, 203-04, 85 A.2d 391 (1952). It was therefore within the province of the jury to accept ...


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