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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. ALLEN J. PHILLIPS (11/09/79)

filed: November 9, 1979.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA,
v.
ALLEN J. PHILLIPS, APPELLANT



No. 83 Special Transfer Docket, No. 84 Special Transfer Docket, Appeal from the Judgments of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Trial Division, Criminal Section, Nos. 135 and 136 November Term, 1975.

COUNSEL

Albert L. Deutsch, Philadelphia, for appellant.

James Bowen Jordan, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Wieand, Nix and Wekselman, JJ.*fn* Wieand, J., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Wekselman

[ 272 Pa. Super. Page 17]

Appellant was charged with murder, possession of an instrument of crime and possession of a prohibited offensive weapon. His jury trial resulted in a verdict of guilty of first degree murder and guilty of possession of a prohibited offensive weapon. After denial of his post-trial motions, he was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment on the murder charge to be followed by a two and one-half year sentence

[ 272 Pa. Super. Page 18]

    on the weapons charge, thereby giving rise to the instant direct appeal.

Appellant asserts thirteen separate trial errors. We find that one of the allegations of error requires a reversal of the judgment of sentence and the grant of a new trial, and we therefore neither reach nor decide any of the other issues raised in this appeal.*fn1

Appellant was accused of the fatal stabbing of one Susan Speeth on October 23, 1975. The Commonwealth's case was primarily dependent upon a confession introduced at appellant's trial. A 15-year-old girl had informed police that on the day in question she had been standing outside her residence, heard a scream, turned and saw appellant running on the street. When that information came into the possession of the police, appellant was taken into custody and later that evening confessed to the slaying. Appellant contended that he had been beaten and tortured and was forced to sign the confession. The voluntariness of the confession was, therefore, a critical matter for the defense. Appellant, therefore, indicated at trial that he would take the stand in his own defense and the Commonwealth thereupon informed

[ 272 Pa. Super. Page 19]

    the Court that it would offer defendant's prior criminal record to impeach his credibility. That criminal record consisted of theft and conspiracy convictions which antedated the trial of this case by approximately one year. The trial court ruled that the Commonwealth would be permitted to introduce that criminal record to impeach appellant's credibility and appellant, therefore, chose not to testify. The ruling of the trial court constituted an abuse of discretion.

In Commonwealth v. Bighum, 452 Pa. 554, 307 A.2d 255 (1973), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania abandoned the prior rule in this Commonwealth which permitted the introduction of criminal records involving any felony or any misdemeanor involving crimen falsi to impeach the credibility of a witness. The Court there began the fashioning of a new rule by declaring that only those crimes involving dishonesty or false statement might be used for impeachment purposes. Bighum, however, rejected any per se rule of admissibility even where the prior crime involved dishonesty or false statement. The Bighum rule was further refined in Commonwealth v. Roots, 482 Pa. 33, 393 A.2d ...


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