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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. GRACE E. GROSS (11/30/82)

filed: November 30, 1982.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA,
v.
GRACE E. GROSS, APPELLANT



No. 158 Harrisburg, 1980, Appeal from Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, of Juniata County, No. 138 of 1979.

COUNSEL

William C. Dissinger, Marysville, for appellant.

Lester H. Zimmerman, Mifflintown, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Brosky, Wieand and Montemuro, JJ.

Author: Wieand

[ 307 Pa. Super. Page 355]

Grace Gross was tried by jury and convicted of arson endangering property.*fn1 After post-trial motions had been denied, she was sentenced to probation for three years, conditioned upon her participation in a county-supervised treatment plan. On direct appeal, she argues: (1) that she was denied a fair trial because a search of her person was conducted during trial; (2) that the trial court erred in allowing an expert to express an opinion that the fire had been intentionally set; (3) that she received ineffective assistance of counsel; and (4) that her trial was held in violation of Rule 1100. Finding no merit in any of these arguments, we affirm the judgment of sentence.

At or about 6:30 a.m. on April 20, 1979, a furnished mobile home owned by Gerald Fulkroad and leased to Grace Gross was completely destroyed by fire. About one month prior to the fire, Fulkroad had hand delivered to appellant an eviction notice which gave her thirty days to vacate the property. On the evening of April 19, the landlord had again visited the trailer to remind appellant of her eviction. He testified that when he visited the trailer on April 19, it appeared to have been cleared of appellant's personal effects. Two witnesses who were visiting appellant on April

[ 307 Pa. Super. Page 35619]

testified that after Fulkroad departed, appellant remarked, "It goes up tonight." Other testimony established that appellant had taken out a fire insurance policy on the contents of the trailer for the first time on March 23, 1979. Expert witnesses testified that the fire had been of incendiary origin. It spread rapidly because a flammable liquid had been poured on the floor at several points. One Commonwealth expert opined that the fire had been intentionally set.

During the course of the trial, the prosecutor received information that appellant was carrying bullets in her purse. He received permission from the court to conduct a search of appellant's person. In the presence of the judge, a deputy sheriff and counsel, but out of the presence of the jury, appellant was searched by using a metal detector. She was required to remove her boots, but no other disrobing was required. Appellant contends that this search violated her constitutional rights and prejudiced her right to a fair trial. We disagree.

"It is universally accepted that the trial judge has the responsibility and authority to maintain in the courtroom the appropriate atmosphere for the fair and orderly disposition of the issues presented." Commonwealth v. Patterson, 452 Pa. 457, 464, 308 A.2d 90, 94 (1975). Proper security measures fall within the trial court's exercise of discretion. When necessary to prevent a defendant from disrupting a trial and possibly injuring others, reasonable security measures will not prejudice the defendant's fair trial rights. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Africa, 466 Pa. 603, 353 A.2d 855 (1976); Commonwealth v. Martinolich, 456 Pa. 136, 318 A.2d 680 (1974); Commonwealth v. Carter, 219 Pa. Super. 280, 281 A.2d 75 (1971). In the instant case, the possibility of prejudice was nonexistent. The search of appellant's person was conducted outside the presence of the jury. See: Commonwealth v. Wright, 456 Pa. 511, 514, 321 A.2d 625, 626 (1974); Commonwealth v. Hinton, 269 Pa. Super. 43, 53, 409 A.2d 54, 59 (1979); Commonwealth v. Geho, 223 Pa. Super. 525, 526 n. 1, 302 A.2d 463, 464 n. 1 (1973).

[ 307 Pa. Super. Page 357]

Appellant's argument that she was thereby denied a fair trial ...


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