No. 848 April Term, 1978, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Mercer County, Criminal Division, No. 456 Criminal, 1977.
David A. Murdoch, Sharon, for appellant.
David B. Douds, Assistant District Attorney, Mercer, for Commonwealth, appellee.
Cercone, President Judge, and Price, Spaeth, Hester, Cavanaugh, Montgomery and Hoffman, JJ. Price, J., files a dissenting opinion in which Cavanaugh, J., joins.
[ 282 Pa. Super. Page 53]
Appellant Jerome Davis was convicted in a jury trial of charges of robbery and conspiracy in the Court of Common Pleas, Mercer County. Post trial motions were argued and denied and a sentence of four to ten years imprisonment was imposed. On appeal, a three-judge panel of this Court reversed the judgment of sentence and granted appellant a new trial. 264 Pa. Super. 574, 400 A.2d 1320 (1979). We granted the Commonwealth's application for reargument before the Court en banc.
Prior to jury selection, defense counsel submitted to the court the following proposed voir dire question:
Have you or any member of your immediate family ever been the victim of any crime?
[ 282 Pa. Super. Page 54]
The court refused to pose this question, or any form thereof, to the veniremen. We agree with appellant that this constituted reversible error.*fn1
Our courts have often stated that the single goal of jury voir dire is to secure a competent, fair, impartial, and unprejudiced jury. Commonwealth v. England, 474 Pa. 1, 375 A.2d 1292 (1977); Commonwealth v. Futch, 469 Pa. 422, 366 A.2d 246 (1976). To this end, an accused is normally accorded considerable latitude in inquiring into bias or any other subject which bears on the impartiality of a prospective juror. Commonwealth v. Lopinson, 427 Pa. 284, 234 A.2d 552 (1967), cert. den. 411 U.S. 986 (1973). The inquiry, however, should be confined to disclosing qualifications or lack of qualifications and whether or not the juror had formed a fixed opinion in the case as to the accused's guilt or innocence. Commonwealth v. Brown, 464 Pa. 625, 347 A.2d 716 (1975); Commonwealth v. Johnson, 452 Pa. 130, 305 A.2d 5 (1973); Commonwealth v. Biebighauser, 450 Pa. 336, 300 A.2d 70 (1973). Traditionally, the scope and extent of voir dire examination rests with the discretion of the trial court, subject to "essential demands of fairness". Ham v. South Carolina, 409 U.S. 524, 526, 93 S.Ct. 848, 35 L.Ed.2d 46 (1972); Bentivoglio v. Ralston, 447 Pa. 24, 31, 288 A.2d 745, 749 (1972); Commonwealth v. McGrew, 375 Pa. 518, 100 A.2d 467 (1953). Where the trial judge has abused this discretion, we have not hesitated to reverse. See, e. g., Commonwealth v. Christian, 480 Pa. 131, 389 A.2d 545, 94 A.L.R.3d 1 (1978); Commonwealth v. Brown, supra; Commonwealth v. Foster, 221 Pa. Super. 426, 293 A.2d 94 (1972).
We recently had occasion to consider the significance of victimization questions on voir dire with regard to the accused's right to ...