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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. RICHARD WRIGHT (04/28/77)

decided: April 28, 1977.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
RICHARD WRIGHT, APPELLANT



COUNSEL

Joseph C. Santaguida, Philadelphia, for appellant.

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

Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Jones, former C. J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case. Roberts, J., concurs in the result.

Author: Eagen

[ 472 Pa. Page 525]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Richard Wright was convicted in Philadelphia of murder of the second degree following a trial without a jury. Post-verdict motions were denied by a court en banc and sentence was imposed. This appeal followed.

The sole complaint on appeal is that it was reversible error to permit over objection evidentiary use at trial of an incriminatory statement made and signed by Wright while in police custody. It is contended this statement resulted from physical and mental coercion.

Prior to trial, Wright filed a motion to suppress the foregoing evidence and at a hearing on this motion he testified, inter alia, that the statement was made only after he had been struck with a blackjack by an interrogating police officer and threatened with further physical abuse. Witnesses for the Commonwealth specifically denied this testimony.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the hearing judge concluded the challenged statement was voluntary and denied the motion to suppress. However, no specific findings of fact were recorded and, the conflict in the testimony as to whether or not Wright had been subjected to physical abuse prior to making the statement was not definitively resolved. The judge, after orally reviewing certain portions of the testimony, stated:

". . . therefore, I believe that the Commonwealth has sustained its burden of proof by a mere preponderance that this man knew what he was signing to and that his signature was placed there voluntarily, although albeit, he may have been subjected to some blows. . . ." [Emphasis added.]

[ 472 Pa. Page 526]

The record demonstrates another important deficiency.

Wright was initially taken into custody by the Upper Dublin police who then turned him over to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. After a hearing before a United States Magistrate, custody was given to the Philadelphia police for prosecution on the murder charge involved herein. At the suppression hearing, Wright testified that before custody was given to the Philadelphia police, he telephoned a relative from the Federal Building and requested that the relative obtain a lawyer for him, and that upon his ...


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