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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. JOHN J. ZIEGLER (12/30/83)

decided: December 30, 1983.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN J. ZIEGLER, APPELLEE



No. 2 E.D. Appeal Dkt. 1983, Discretionary Appeal from the September 10, 1982, Superior Court Panel Decision, Docketed at No. 220, Philadelphia, 1981, affirming the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia, Trial Division, Criminal Section, suppressing defendant's statements, as of Information Nos. 1845-1846, September Session, 1980, ARGUED: OCTOBER 21, 1983

COUNSEL

Eric B. Henson, Deputy Dist. Atty., Mark Gurevitz, Asst. Dist. Atty., for appellant.

Burton Rose, Philadelphia, for appellee.

Roberts, C.j., and Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ. Larsen, J., files a concurring opinion in which Hutchinson, J., joins. Zappala, J., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Mcdermott

[ 503 Pa. Page 557]

OPINION

This is a discretionary appeal from the order of the Superior Court, 304 Pa. Super. 623, 450 A.2d 1055, affirming the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, suppressing on Miranda*fn1 grounds statements given by appellee. We reverse.

Appellee, a Philadelphia Police Officer, became the subject of a homicide charge in a sequence of events arising out of the pursuit and apprehension of the driver of a vehicle. At approximately 4:30 p.m. on the afternoon of August 24, 1980, appellee, while on-duty and in uniform, observed what he suspected to be a stolen vehicle travelling at high rate of speed in a populous area, and attempted to stop the vehicle. The driver ignored these efforts and appellee gave chase. When the vehicle subsequently was stopped, at least one passenger fled while the driver remained behind the wheel. Appellee approached the vehicle with gun drawn. As he reached the door of the vehicle, appellee was knocked to the ground as the driver again put the vehicle in gear and drove a short distance before crashing. Appellee again approached the vehicle, an altercation with the driver ensued, and the driver suffered wounds, including a gunshot wound from appellee's gun. Approximately one hour later, at Temple Hospital, the driver was pronounced dead.

Radio messages between appellee and other police personnel concerning the sequence of events were monitored and recorded on the police communication network. Appellee's superior, a Lieutenant Puchalski, inquired over police radio as to how the driver had been shot, and appellee responded:

I hit him on the head, that's all.

[ 503 Pa. Page 558]

Upon arriving at the hospital, appellee was confronted by his superior, who stated:

Well, the male's shot. Can you tell me how the male got shot?

Appellee responded:

I didn't shoot anybody. I hit him with my gun. He tried to get away from me. He tried to run me over and we were struggling and I hit him.

The superior then asked for the gun, examined it to determine if it had been fired, and said to appellee:

You have a spent shell, five live rounds. We have a male shot. Your gun went off, apparently. The male's shot and you shot him.

Appellee replied:

I hit him. If my gun went off, you know, I didn't -- it was an accident.

At that point, pursuant to departmental regulations, the supervisor directed appellee to report to Police Department Staff Inspector Headquarters, accompanied by another officer.*fn2

[ 503 Pa. Page 559]

Appellee was joined at Staff Inspector Headquarters by his superior Lieutenant Puchalski. The superior offered to telephone appellee's family since, under departmental regulations, he was not himself permitted to make any calls. Also, pursuant to regulations, appellee's revolver was taken for ballistics tests. At approximately 6:40 p.m., the staff inspector, one Officer Taylor, arrived and commenced questioning of appellee. Between that time and midnight, appellee gave both oral and written statements to the staff inspector, and also drew a sketch illustrating where the events occurred leading up to the altercation. At no time were Miranda warnings given to appellee.

Five days later, on August 29, 1980, a complaint was issued for appellee's arrest on charges of murder and involuntary manslaughter. The post-mortem examination indicated that, while the immediate cause of death was the gunshot wound, blows to the decedent's head had caused two skull fractures which eventually could have caused death. On August 30, 1980, appellee voluntarily surrendered.

Appellee's motions to suppress evidence were considered by the Honorable George J. Ivins, of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. Judge Ivins granted appellee's motions to suppress on Miranda grounds the second oral statement given to Lieutenant Puchalski at the hospital, as well as the oral and written statements and the sketch given to Inspector Taylor at Staff Inspector's Headquarters. The Commonwealth sought and was granted pre-trial appeal to the Superior Court. The Superior Court accepted jurisdiction and affirmed, per curiam, the suppression order, concluding that the statements given by appellee were the product of custodial interrogation. It is this decision which we now review.

Before addressing the merits, we note that appellee contends that the Commonwealth's pre-trial appeal should have been quashed as interlocutory. This argument must be rejected. Since the appellant has certified that ...


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