No. 205 January Term, 1977, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, Criminal Section of Philadelphia County, Imposed on Information No. 350, April Session 1976.
Timothy J. Savage, Philadelphia, for appellant.
Robert B. Lawler, Chief, Appeals Div., Asst. Dist. Atty., Sheldon M. Finkelstein, Philadelphia, for appellee.
Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Nix, Manderino and Larsen, JJ. O'Brien and Roberts, JJ., concurred in the result. Larsen, J., dissents.
Appellant, DeWayne Beck, was charged with murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, criminal conspiracy, possession of instruments of crime, and possession of a concealed weapon. After a jury trial, appellant was found guilty of murder of the third degree and not guilty of criminal conspiracy. The possession charges were nol prossed. Post-verdict motions were denied, and appellant was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than seven years nor more than twenty years. This direct appeal followed. Because the trial court improperly restricted the presentation of evidence by the defense, we reverse the judgment of sentence and grant appellant a new trial.
Appellant was accused of stabbing William Jackson in a street encounter outside the home of Bernadine Williams in whose residence the victim occasionally resided. Appellant admitted the stabbing, but contended he acted in self-defense. In order to support his claim, appellant sought to introduce into evidence (1) a prior conviction of the victim for assault and battery upon a policeman -- arising out of an incident in which the victim punched a policeman while being taken to a cell after the victim's arrest for disorderly conduct; and (2) prior aggressive and violent conduct in which the victim physically attacked Bernadine Williams
and Edward Flippen, her boyfriend. The trial court refused to admit the evidence above described. We agree with appellant that the exclusion of this evidence constituted reversible error.
The prior conviction of the victim should have been admitted into evidence.
In Commonwealth v. Amos, 445 Pa. 297, 284 A.2d 748 (1971), this Court said that prior convictions involving aggression by the victim of a homicide may be introduced into evidence by a defendant where a claim of self-defense is made for either one of two purposes: "(1) to corroborate his alleged knowledge of the victim's quarrelsome and violent character to show that the defendant reasonably believed that his life was in danger; or (2) to prove the alleged violent propensities of the victim to show that the victim was in fact the aggressor." (Footnote omitted.) Commonwealth v. Amos, 445 Pa. at 303, 284 A.2d at 750 (prior conviction of victim for assault and battery admissible).
The prosecution contends that the trial court properly excluded the evidence because appellant failed to establish that he had knowledge of the victim's criminal conviction. A defendant, however, need not have knowledge of a victim's criminal conviction in order to introduce the prior conviction showing the aggressive propensities of the victim -- the second purpose referred ...