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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. BENJAMIN WRIGHT (01/27/75)

decided: January 27, 1975.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
BENJAMIN WRIGHT, APPELLANT (TWO CASES)



COUNSEL

Stanley Bashman, Philadelphia, for appellant.

John H. Isom, Asst. Dist. Atty., Abraham J. Gafni, Deputy Dist. Atty. for Law, F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Dist. Atty., Richard A. Sprague, First Asst. Dist. Atty., Steven H. Goldblatt, Asst. Dist. Atty., Chief, Appeals Div., Philadelphia, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Manderino, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Roberts and Nix, JJ., dissent.

Author: Pomeroy

[ 460 Pa. Page 249]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Benjamin Wright was found guilty by a jury of aggravated robbery and murder in the first degree. Post-verdict motions were denied, and Wright was sentenced to life imprisonment on the murder conviction, and a concurrent term of imprisonment of ten to twenty years on the robbery conviction. This appeal followed.*fn1 We affirm.

The victim, one Karl Klaiss, was fatally shot on a Philadelphia street corner during a robbery on the evening of July 11, 1972. Police heard the shots and arrived on the scene in time to observe two men fleeing down an alley. A description of the two men was immediately sent out over police radio. Wright, who matched the broadcast description, was arrested one block from the scene of the crime approximately one hour after the shooting.

Wright arrived at the Police Administration Building at approximately 12:30 A.M. the following morning. He was left alone in an interrogation room until 3:30 A.M., when he was given his Miranda warnings and interviewed by police detectives. During this interview, Wright denied any participation in the crime.

Meantime, Wright's co-felon, Christopher Jackson, had been apprehended and had made a statement implicating both himself and Wright. At 5:05 o'clock on the same

[ 460 Pa. Page 250]

    morning Wright was confronted with Jackson, who again admitted taking part in the robbery, and urged Wright to confess. Wright then did make an inculpatory statement. At trial this statement was admitted in evidence as part of the Commonwealth's case, a motion to suppress it having been previously denied. The two contentions raised on this appeal are that, for different reasons, the admission of Wright's confession was error requiring reversal. We do not agree.

Appellant first argues that his statement was inadmissible because the fruit of an illegal arrest. The court which heard Wright's motion to suppress his statement ruled that the arrest was legal, but on post-verdict motions the trial court disagreed. Noting that about a dozen suspects matching the description broadcast by the police were arrested on the night of the shooting, the court ruled that Wright's detention was part of an illegal "dragnet" arrest of the sort condemned by this Court in Commonwealth v. Fogan, 449 Pa. 552, 296 A.2d 755 (1972). See also Davis v. Mississippi, 394 U.S. 721, 89 S.Ct. 1394, 22 L.Ed.2d 676 (1969).

We need not pass on the correctness of this conclusion, however, for even if the arrest was illegal, Wright's subsequent confession was nonetheless admissible. Statements following an illegal arrest must be excluded from evidence only if they are causally related to the invasion of the suspect's rights. If a statement is "sufficiently an act of free will to purge the primary taint of the unlawful invasion", or if the "connection between the arrest and the statement [is] 'so attenuated as to dissipate the taint'", the statement need not be excluded. Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 486, 491, 83 S.Ct. 407, 416, 419, 9 L.Ed.2d 441, 454, 457 ...


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