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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. ARTHUR JOHNSON (04/07/76)

decided: April 7, 1976.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
ARTHUR JOHNSON, APPELLANT



COUNSEL

Rudolph S. Pallastrone, George A. Bachetti, Philadelphia, for appellant.

F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Dist. Atty., Steven H. Goldblatt, Asst. Dist. Atty., Chief, Appeals Div., Glen S. Gitomer, Philadelphia, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Manderino, J., filed a concurring opinion in which Roberts, J., joins. Nix, J., concurs in the result.

Author: Pomeroy

[ 467 Pa. Page 150]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Arthur Johnson, the appellant, was convicted of murder in the first degree for the killing of one Jerome Wakefield after a trial by jury. Post-trial motions were denied, and Johnson was sentenced to life imprisonment. This direct appeal followed.*fn1

The only evidence presented at trial by the Commonwealth which linked appellant to the murder with which he was charged was a confession elicited from Johnson subsequent to his arrest. Johnson challenged the admissibility of the confession in a pre-trial suppression hearing on three grounds: (1) the confession was the tainted product of an illegal arrest; (2) Johnson did not knowingly and intelligently waive his right to remain silent and to have appointed counsel present during questioning; (3) the confession was coerced and involuntary. The suppression court rejected these contentions and ruled that the confession was admissible.

[ 467 Pa. Page 151]

Pursuant to the procedure provided by Rule 323(j) of our Rules of Criminal Procedure, 19 P.S. (1975 Pamphlet), Johnson renewed at trial his challenge to the validity of the confession.*fn2 After the close of evidence, the trial judge submitted the question of the validity of the confession to the jury, charging them to disregard the confession should they find the waiver of rights to have been unintelligent or unknowing, or the confession involuntary. (The illegal arrest ground was not pressed at trial). By its verdict of guilty the jury necessarily found against Johnson with respect to both of those contentions. On this appeal appellant alleges that several errors by the suppression court and at trial compel a new trial. As these arguments have either been waived or are without merit we will affirm.

I.

Johnson first challenges the ruling of the suppression court that his confession was admissible. In reviewing this ruling our initial task is to determine whether the factual findings are supported by the record. "In making this determination, we are to consider only the evidence of the prosecution's witnesses and so much evidence of the defense as, fairly read in the context of

[ 467 Pa. Page 152]

    the record as a whole, remains uncontradicted." Commonwealth v. Goodwin, 460 Pa. 516, 522, 333 A.2d 892, 895 (1975). If, when so viewed, the evidence supports the factual findings we are bound by such findings; we may only reverse if the legal conclusions drawn therefrom are in error.*fn3 In the instant case, our review of the record satisfies us that the hearing judge's factual findings were amply supported, and that given these findings we correctly concluded that ...


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