No. 848 April Term, 1978, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence entered by the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division at No. 456 Criminal, 1977, dated March 28, 1978, by the Honorable John Q. Stranahan, President Judge.
David A. Murdoch, Pittsburgh, for appellant.
David B. Douds, Assistant District Attorney, Hermitage, for Commonwealth, appellee.
Cercone, Wieand and Lipez, JJ.
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Jerome Davis was tried by jury and convicted of robbery and conspiracy. Post trial motions were denied, and Davis was sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment for not less than four years nor more than ten years. In his appeal to this Court, Davis alleges several reasons why there was error in denying his motion for new trial. The disposition
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which we make requires that we consider only one of appellant's assignments of error.
During voir dire examination conducted by the court, the learned trial judge refused to submit to prospective jurors an inquiry requested by counsel as follows: "Have you or has any member of your immediate family ever been the victim of any crime?" Appellant contends this was error. We agree and reverse.
The purpose of voir dire examination is to provide an accused with a "competent, fair, impartial and unprejudiced jury." Commonwealth v. England, 474 Pa. 1, 6, 375 A.2d 1292, 1295 (1977); Commonwealth v. McGrew, 375 Pa. 518, 525, 100 A.2d 467, 470 (1953); Commonwealth v. Foster, 221 Pa. Super. 426, 293 A.2d 94 (1972). While considerable latitude should be permitted, the inquiry should be confined to disclosing qualifications of a juror and whether a juror has formed a fixed opinion or may otherwise be subject to disqualification for cause. Commonwealth v. Brown, 464 Pa. 625, 627, 347 A.2d 716, 717 (1975); Commonwealth v. Johnson, 452 Pa. 130, 134, 305 A.2d 5, 7 (1973); Commonwealth v. Biebighauser, 450 Pa. 336, 346, 300 A.2d 70, 75 (1973). The scope of voir dire examination, however, rests in the sound discretion of the trial judge, and his rulings thereon will not be reversed in the absence of an abuse thereof. Commonwealth v. Kahley, 467 Pa. 272, 356 A.2d 745 (1976); Commonwealth v. Biebighauser, supra; Commonwealth v. Lopinson, 427 Pa. 284, 234 A.2d 552 (1967).
In the instant case we are compelled to conclude that there was an abuse of discretion. Appellant should have been permitted to inquire of prospective jurors whether any of them had been victimized by crime. Defendant had a right to probe for prejudices of jurors likely to affect their deliberations independent of the evidence. Commonwealth v. Brown, supra. If a juror's objectivity were destroyed by such prejudice, he or she would then be subject to disqualification for cause. The potential for lack of objectivity would be particularly great if a juror had been the victim of a
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crime similar to the one with which the ...