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decided: April 13, 1978.


No. 372 April Term, 1974, Appeal from Judgment of Sentence, dated April 26, 1974, filed at No. 44 January Term, 1972, in the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Criminal Division.


John P. Liekar, Public Defender, Canonsburg, for appellant.

Jack H. France, Assistant District Attorney, Charleroi, and Jess D. Costa, District Attorney, Bentleyville, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Watkins, President Judge, and Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, Van der Voort and Spaeth, JJ. Watkins, former President Judge, did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case. Price, J., concurs in the result.

Author: Hoffman

[ 253 Pa. Super. Page 336]

This case presents an issue of first impression in Pennsylvania: must a coroner advise a parent whom he suspects of causing her child's death by abuse, of her Miranda*fn1 rights. We conclude that the federal constitution did not obligate the coroner in the instant case to apprise appellant of her Miranda rights. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of sentence.*fn2

On January 11, 1972, Washington County police officials arrested appellant and filed a criminal complaint which charged her with the involuntary manslaughter*fn3 of her four year old son. On January 21, 1972, appellant's attorney filed an application to suppress oral and written statements

[ 253 Pa. Super. Page 337]

    obtained in violation of appellant's rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.*fn4 The Commonwealth filed an answer denying appellant's assertion. On March 20, 1972, the lower court conducted a suppression hearing. At this hearing, Mr. Farrell Jackson, Coroner of Washington County, testified that on Friday, December 31, 1971, an employee of a local hospital informed him that a child named Richard Anderson had died earlier that day, possibly as a result of child abuse. The coroner immediately ordered the removal of the child's body to another hospital so that a pathologist could perform a post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death. The coroner also learned that appellant was the child's mother.

On January 3, 1972, the coroner telephoned appellant and asked her to come to his office at 10:00 a. m. that day; appellant acceded to this request. When she arrived, Coroner Jackson stated that he asked her to come to his office because the hospital had reported a suspicion that child abuse had caused the child's death. He also disclosed that he had ordered a pathologist's report which would be completed in a day or two. The subsequent conversation lasted 45 minutes. The coroner's secretary transcribed the interchange. The discussion concerned the nature of the coroner's duties and general details of how the death occurred. In sum, it was exploratory rather than accusatory. Appellant attributed her child's demise to a fall; she made no self-incriminating statements. At the close of the conversation, the coroner asked appellant to return to his office at 10:30 a. m. on January 5, 1972, in order to discuss the findings contained in the expected pathologist's report. The coroner suggested that appellant bring an attorney.

At 10:30 a. m. on January 5, 1972, appellant again appeared at the coroner's office; she had not retained an attorney. Coroner Jackson informed appellant of the pathologist's report which indicated possible child abuse and

[ 253 Pa. Super. Page 338]

    that the injury which resulted in death could not have been caused by a fall. Further, the coroner testified: "Well, I discussed the nature of the death, the cause of the death, and informed her that the doctors who were involved are compelled by law to report these, and as a coroner's office it is our duty to see to it that those who do such things are prosecuted or recommended for prosecution and this is my intent, and I felt from what I had learned that she was involved, and this is what this office intended to do." (Notes of Suppression Hearing, p. 7) Appellant then expressed a willingness to tell the coroner what happened. Before further questioning, the coroner reminded appellant that he had advised her on January 3, 1972, to consult with an attorney; appellant responded that she did not know if he had given such advice. Appellant also stated that she had wanted to consult with an attorney. The coroner then asked the following question: "Now, you appeared here this morning without ...

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