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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. VERNON BENNETT (10/05/82)

decided: October 5, 1982.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
VERNON BENNETT, APPELLANT



No. 5 E.D. Appeal Docket, 1982, Appeal from Order of Superior Court at No. 2050, October Term, 1979, reversing Order of Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia, Trial Division, Criminal Section, at Nos. 1451-52, February Term, 1979.

COUNSEL

John W. Packel, Asst. Public Defender, Karl Baker, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Robert B. Lawler, Eric B. Henson, Asst. Dist. Attys., for appellee.

O'Brien, C. J., and Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott and Hutchinson, JJ. Flaherty, J., filed a concurring opinion in which Hutchinson, J., joined. McDermott, J., filed a concurring opinion in which Larsen, J., joined.

Author: Per Curiam

[ 498 Pa. Page 657]

OPINION

Order affirmed. 287 Pa. Super. 485, 430 A.2d 994.

FLAHERTY, Justice, concurring.

Appellant Vernon Bennett was arrested on February 1, 1979 at 9:45 p. m. and taken to the West Detective Division of the Philadelphia Police Department. One hour later police obtained a signed, written statement from him. At 3:47 a. m., just six hours and two minutes after his arrest, Bennett was arraigned. Both the trial court and Superior Court held this statement inadmissible under Commonwealth v. Davenport, 471 Pa. 278, 370 A.2d 301 (1977).

Our constitutions guarantee every individual the right to know the nature and cause of the accusations against him

[ 498 Pa. Page 658]

    and the right to be free from any unnecessary abridgement of his liberty. To insure these rights, our rules require that an individual who is arrested be afforded a preliminary arraignment before a judicial officer without unnecessary delay. See Pa.R.Crim.P. 122, 123, 130, 140. This Court adopted a prophylactic rule: Absent exigent circumstances, if the accused is not arraigned within six hours of arrest, any statement obtained after arrest but before arraignment is inadmissible at trial. Commonwealth v. Davenport, supra. Notwithstanding the goals of per se rules -- motivation of law enforcement officials to conduct criminal investigations fairly, responsibly and, in cases such as the instant one, promptly and ease of judicial administration -- "stop watch justice" exacts a considerable toll on society when one who is actually guilty of the crimes charged escapes conviction and punishment for his guilty conduct because of what is termed in lay parlance, a "technicality". These goals, though laudable, "should not be exalted at the expense of justice." Commonwealth v. Blady, 492 Pa. 285, 286, 424 A.2d 864 (1980) (Mr. Justice Larsen, dissenting).

Due to the inherent inexactitude of human experience, it is not surprising that an accused should assert inadmissibility of a statement due to a mere two minute delay in the arraignment procedure. Such a delay is certainly properly characterized as de minimis non-compliance with Davenport. Instantly, however, the trial court rejected the Commonwealth's suggestion it should overlook such a de minimis infraction. In my view, in application of the ancient maxim "Lex non curat de minimis," Hob. 88, a delay of more than six hours should not per se render any pre-arraignment statement inadmissible; rather, I would place on the Commonwealth the burden of proving that the delay was not unnecessary when the delay between arrest and arraignment exceeds six hours. "A clock-watching ritual should not be substituted for ...


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