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COMMONWEALTH v. WOODS (12/04/73)

decided: December 4, 1973.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
WOODS, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Allegheny County, Sept. T., 1970, No. 6642, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Venolious Lee Woods.

COUNSEL

Sallie Ann Radick and John J. Dean, Assistant Public Defenders, and George H. Ross, Public Defender, for appellant.

Carol Mary Los and Robert L. Eberhardt, Assistant District Attorneys, and Robert W. Duggan, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Manderino. Mr. Justice Roberts joins the majority opinion. Concurring Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Justice O'Brien and Mr. Justice Nix join in this concurring opinion. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Jones.

Author: Manderino

[ 455 Pa. Page 2]

The appellant, Venolious Lee Woods, was convicted in a jury trial of second-degree murder and received a sentence of eight to sixteen years imprisonment. Post-trial motions were denied and this appeal followed in which we must decide whether certain oral statements made by the appellant to a police officer after his arrest were properly admitted in rebuttal for impeachment purposes even though the statements were obtained in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966), and had been suppressed prior to trial.

The prosecution does not challenge the pretrial suppression order, but argues that it does not prohibit the use of the suppressed statements in rebuttal for impeachment

[ 455 Pa. Page 3]

    purposes even though they could not be used as part of the prosecution's case in chief. The prosecution relies on Harris v. New York, 401 U.S. 222, 91 S. Ct. 643, 28 L.Ed. 2d 1 (1971), which the appellant contends is inapplicable to the facts of this case. We agree with the appellant that Harris is not applicable.*fn*

Harris reaffirmed the inadmissibility of a defendant's suppressed statements in the prosecutions case in chief. Harris, however, permitted the prosecution to introduce suppressed statements for the purpose of contradicting alleged false statements made by the defendant while testifying. Harris allowed the introduction of suppressed statements which were inconsistent with the defendant's trial testimony -- testimony which the prosecution disputed during its case in chief. Defendant's trial testimony was helpful to the defendant and harmful to the prosecution. If the testimony of the prosecution's witnesses was truthful, the defendant was committing perjury.

[ 455 Pa. Page 4]

The facts of this case differ significantly. Appellant's trial testimony, which the prosecution wanted to rebut, did not involve testimony which was disputed or contradicted in the prosecution's case in chief. The appellant's testimony agreed with the testimony of the prosecution's witnesses. The prosecution cannot claim it is harmed by testimony of the appellant which is not in dispute and which is corroborated by prosecution witnesses.

In this case, both the prosecution and the defense agreed that, following a chase in which the victim was running away from the appellant, the victim had been stabbed during a struggle in an alleyway. The disagreement centered around the motive for the crime. The prosecution claimed that robbery of the victim was the motive for the stabbing. The defense contended, however, that appellant was attempting to capture the victim who, immediately before the chase, had attempted to burglarize the appellant's apartment located about seven blocks away from the scene of the stabbing. To sustain its version, which was based solely on circumstantial evidence, the prosecution contended (1) that during part of the chase, the appellant, while pursuing the victim who was running on foot, was in an automobile with two other people and (2) that the appellant returned to his apartment with the knife used in the stabbing. In appellant's suppressed statements, which consisted of an oral conversation with a police officer, he at first denied both of the above facts but later in the conversation admitted the second fact. During his trial testimony, however, appellant admitted both facts. He ...


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