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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. RICKIE ALLEN YOCHAM (01/24/79)

decided: January 24, 1979.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
RICKIE ALLEN YOCHAM, A/K/A RICKY ALLEN YOCHAM, APPELLANT



No. 2 March Term, 1978, No. 279 March Term, 1977, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Somerset County, Criminal Division, at Nos. 118 and 119 Criminal 1971, Denying Post Conviction Relief.

COUNSEL

Harry Stump, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

David B. Hartman, Asst. Dist. Atty., Somerset, for appellee.

Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix, Manderino and Larsen, JJ. Nix and Larsen, JJ., filed dissenting opinions. Pomeroy, former J., and O'Brien, J., did not participate in the decision of this case.

Author: Roberts

[ 483 Pa. Page 479]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellant Rickie Yocham appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Somerset County denying post-conviction relief. The court rejected appellant's claim that appellate counsel provided constitutionally ineffective representation by abandoning a challenge to the admissibility of an inculpatory statement made to Pennsylvania State Police. We agree with appellant that the court erroneously rejected his claim and reverse.*fn*

Pennsylvania State Police suspected appellant's involvement in a Somerset County homicide and robbery. Four months after the Somerset County crimes, Pittsburgh police took appellant into custody in connection with an Allegheny County rape. State police learned that appellant was in the custody of Pittsburgh police and went to the Pittsburgh

[ 483 Pa. Page 480]

Public Safety Building to question him. Appellant admitted his involvement in the Somerset County crimes. Appellant was then charged with murder, robbery, and conspiracy.

The court of common pleas appointed counsel to represent appellant. In a pre-trial motion to suppress, appellant contended that the inculpatory statement was the product of an illegal arrest. The Commonwealth sought to prove both that police gave appellant Miranda warnings and that no evidence of police coercion existed. But the Commonwealth failed to demonstrate that the arrest was lawful or that the inculpatory statement was not the product of the allegedly unlawful arrest. The suppression court nonetheless denied the motion.

A jury convicted appellant of murder of the first degree, robbery and conspiracy. In post-verdict motions, appellant renewed his challenge to the admissibility of the inculpatory statement. The court of common pleas denied the motions. Appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment on the murder conviction and received concurrent sentences on the robbery and conspiracy convictions. On direct appeal, the same appointed counsel alleged various trial errors, but did not pursue the challenge to the inculpatory statements. This Court affirmed judgments of sentence. Commonwealth v. Yocham, 464 Pa. 223, 346 A.2d 297 (1975).

Appellant, with the assistance of new counsel, filed a petition for post-conviction relief in which he challenged the effectiveness of appellate counsel in failing to pursue the claim that his inculpatory statement was unlawful. The PCHA court summarily dismissed the petition without a hearing. This Court reversed and remanded for a hearing on appellant's petition. Commonwealth v. Yocham, 473 Pa. 445, 375 A.2d 325 (1977).

At the hearing, trial counsel testified that, following the hearing on the motion to suppress, he conducted an "independent investigation" into facts the Commonwealth did not introduce at the suppression hearing. Counsel stated that his investigation into facts outside the record led him to conclude that Pittsburgh police took appellant into custody

[ 483 Pa. Page 481]

    on the basis of an arrest warrant. Counsel concluded that appellant's assertion "had no factual basis" and was improper. Counsel decided not to "press the issue further." The PCHA ...


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