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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. VERNARD EACKLES (04/10/81)

filed: April 10, 1981.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT AT NO. 912,
v.
VERNARD EACKLES, A/K/A VERNARD ECHOLS, APPELLANT AT NO. 1092



Nos. 912 and 1092 April Term, 1979, Appeals from Order and Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Criminal Division, at Nos. CC7708093A and CC7708250A.

COUNSEL

Kathryn L. Simpson, Assistant District Attorney, Pittsburgh, for appellant in No. 912 and appellee in No. 1092.

John H. Corbett, Jr., Pittsburgh, for appellant in No. 1092 and appellee in No. 912.

Cercone, President Judge, and Shertz and Wieand, JJ.

Author: Wieand

[ 286 Pa. Super. Page 149]

Vernard Eackles, a/k/a Vernard Echols, was found guilty of thirty-eight counts of forgery,*fn1 thirty-one counts of theft by unlawful taking,*fn2 and one count of conspiracy*fn3 arising

[ 286 Pa. Super. Page 150]

    out of a scheme to defraud the Allegheny County Department of Manpower. Subsequently, the trial court arrested judgment on the convictions for theft by unlawful taking but imposed sentence on the remaining convictions. Eackles, hereinafter referred to as appellant, has appealed from the judgment of sentence. The Commonwealth has appealed from the order arresting judgment. We find no error and, therefore, will affirm the several actions of the learned trial court.

The Commonwealth's evidence showed that in the summer of 1975, appellant had been employed as assistant director of the House of Culture, a Manpower agency. With the complicity of another Manpower employee, Edgar Rakestraw, he prepared employment papers and time sheets for fictitious employees. Based on these false employment records, paychecks were written on an office checkwriting machine and were made payable to various named persons. The names of the payees were forged and appellant, with knowledge of the forged endorsements, was able to cash the checks by countersigning the same in accordance with written authority therefor prepared by Rakestraw. The currency received was then distributed among Rakestraw, appellant and others involved in the scheme.

Appellant was arrested at or about 12:56 o'clock, P.M., on November 30, 1977, and was arraigned approximately five and one-half hours thereafter at 5:30 o'clock, P.M. Following arraignment, appellant ate dinner and conferred with his girl friend for more than an hour. He was repeatedly advised of his Miranda rights to remain silent, and said that he understood those rights. Nevertheless, at 9:00 o'clock, P.M., he indicated a willingness to make a statement. That statement was made and typed between 10:00 o'clock, P.M., and 5:45 o'clock, A.M., the following morning. During this period, appellant frequently took breaks to use the rest room or to get a soft drink or glass of water. In response to questions regarding his physical condition, appellant assured interrogating officers that he was "fine". Observers testified that he appeared relaxed and self-assured. He was 24

[ 286 Pa. Super. Page 151]

    years of age, in good physical condition, and a former college student. He indicated on several occasions that he did not need an attorney.

Appellant moved pre-trial to suppress his statement on the grounds that it had not been made voluntarily. After hearing, the court found the statement to be voluntary and refused to suppress it.*fn4 Having reviewed the evidence elicited on this issue, it seems clear that the facts support the trial court's conclusion that appellant's statement was voluntarily made. It is axiomatic, of course, that a confession to be valid must be given free of physical or psychological coercion which might interfere with one's will to resist. Commonwealth v. Cunningham, 471 Pa. 577, 582, 370 A.2d 1172, 1175 (1977). The test of voluntariness is whether the confession was the product of an essentially free and unconstrained choice by its maker. Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 602, 81 S.Ct. 1860, 1879, 6 L.Ed.2d 1037, 1057 (1961). In determining the voluntariness of a statement, the totality of the circumstances must be considered. Commonwealth v. Starkes, 461 Pa. 178, 184, 335 A.2d 698, 701 (1975). More specifically, there must be considered the ...


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