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COMMONWEALTH v. JOHNSON (06/24/75)

decided: June 24, 1975.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
JOHNSON, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, March T., 1969, Nos. 608 and 608A, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Louis Carl Johnson.

COUNSEL

Carol E. Haltrecht and Michael S. Barranco, Assistant Public Defenders, and John R. Merrick, Public Defender, for appellant.

Timothy H. Knauer, Assistant District Attorney, and William H. Lamb, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Watkins, P. J., Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort, and Spaeth, JJ. Opinion by Price, J. Concurring and Dissenting Opinion by Hoffman, J. Spaeth, J., joins in this opinion.

Author: Price

[ 235 Pa. Super. Page 187]

On June 12, 1972, Louis Carl Johnson, the appellant herein, and a co-defendant, Robert Marshall, were each found guilty in a jury trial of rape and of pointing a deadly weapon. The appellant's motion for a new trial was granted and this court affirmed that decision. On June 20, 1973, the appellant was again convicted of rape and of pointing a deadly weapon. On this appeal, the appellant argues that the trial judge erred in admitting a prior signed statement of the appellant to prove the locus of the crime. It is also argued that the trial judge erred in considering testimony of the co-defendant Marshall given in the first trial, in determining the sentence to be imposed. We hold that the trial judge did not commit error and, therefore, affirm.

The record of the second trial discloses that Johnson and Marshall were driving south together on Route 41 in Chester County, Pennsylvania, which is contiguous with the State of Delaware, when they came across the stalled automobile of Mrs. Elizabeth Largent. Johnson and Marshall attempted to start Mrs. Largent's car for her, but when they were unable to do so, they offered to give Mrs. Largent and her son, Tobie, a ride to the nearest gas station. A gas station was not their destination, however, for instead, after driving for approximately one-half hour, they drove into a wooded area and raped Mrs. Largent repeatedly. After the rapes occurred, they drove to another wooded area, from which Mrs. Largent managed her escape.

Appellant's first contention is that there was insufficient evidence, independent of his own statement, to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the crimes occurred in Pennsylvania and, therefore, that there was insufficient evidence to establish jurisdiction. Appellant urges that, like proof of the corpus delicti, the burden is on the Commonwealth to prove jurisdiction beyond a reasonable

[ 235 Pa. Super. Page 188]

    doubt, and that a statement of the defendant may not be admitted for the purpose of proving jurisdiction.*fn1

It is well settled in Pennsylvania that a defendant's extra-judicial confession is inadmissible until the corpus delicti is established. Commonwealth v. Stokes, 225 Pa. Superior Ct. 411, 311 A.2d 714 (1973). This salutary rule is intended to act as a safeguard against convictions where no crime has been committed. Commonwealth v. Turza, 340 Pa. 128, 16 A.2d 401 (1940).

The corpus delicti has been defined as proof beyond a reasonable doubt that some injury or loss has occurred in a manner consistent with the commission of a crime by someone. Commonwealth v. Stokes, supra. Once the corpus delicti has been established, the danger that someone will be convicted of a non-existent crime is reduced. Therefore, upon proof of the corpus delicti, a defendant's extra-judicial confession is admissible to prove that he committed the crime. Commonwealth v. Stokes, supra; Commonwealth v. Rhoads, 225 Pa. Superior Ct. 208, 310 A.2d 406 (1973).

The nature of the safeguard provided by the requirement of the corpus delicti is such that, once criminal activity has been shown, there is no reason to prevent the admission of the extra-judicial statement. The rationale of requiring the corpus delicti to be established before admitting an extra-judicial statement would not be advanced by including the element of jurisdiction, because establishing jurisdiction does not increase the likelihood that a crime has been committed. Thus there is no reason to prevent the introduction of a defendant's extra-judicial statement to ...


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