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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. WILLIAM RICHARDSON (04/11/84)

decided: April 11, 1984.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT,
v.
WILLIAM RICHARDSON, APPELLEE



No. 103 E.D. Appeal Docket, 1983, Commonwealth Requested Discretionary Appeal from the June 24, 1983 Superior Court Order at Philadelphia 1982, No. 309, Reversing the Judgments of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Trial Division, Criminal Section Imposed on Information Nos. 1418 1419, November Session, 1980, and Remanding for a New Trial, Pa. Super. ; Flaherty, Justice. Larsen, J., files a concurring opinion. Nix, C.j., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Flaherty

[ 504 Pa. Page 360]

OPINION OF THE COURT

This is an appeal from an order of the Superior Court which reversed*fn1 a judgment of sentence imposed by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County after a jury trial in which the defendant, William Richardson, was found guilty of rape and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. Reversal by the Superior Court was premised upon that court's conclusion that the trial court erred in refusing to ask, during voir dire, several of the questions posed by defense counsel relating to whether prospective jurors held certain racial prejudices.

The victim, a white woman, claimed that defendant, a black man, forced his way into her apartment, and that he then proceeded to rape and sodomize her. Defendant alleged

[ 504 Pa. Page 361]

    that the sexual intercourse had been consensual. At trial, defense counsel requested that the trial court ask prospective jurors, during voir dire, the following five questions:

1. Are there any people on the jury who are prejudiced in any way against black people?

2. [Defendant] is a black man who is charged with raping a white woman. Because of the races of the two parties involved in this case, do you think you would have any difficulty being fair to either side?

3. Do you believe that black people are generally more dishonest than white people?

4. Do you believe black men like to rape white women?

5. If the woman were to testify that the incident happened one way and [defendant] would testify that the incident happened in an entirely different way, would you tend to believe the testimony of the complainant merely because she was white?

The trial court, however, refused to pose these questions to the prospective jurors, except for the second question, which it rephrased as follows:

I have just been advised that the victim in this case was a white person. You see that the defendant is black. Would these racial differences present such a problem to you that it could interfere with your honest appraisal of the case and interfere with your ...


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