Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.



filed: May 10, 1985.


Appeal from the Order Entered on January 20, 1983 in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Criminal Division, No. 4021 July Term, 1975.


Ronald T. Williamson, Assistant District Attorney, Norristown, for Commonwealth, appellant.

Jeffrey A. Kroberger, Erdenheim, for appellee.

Spaeth, President Judge, and Olszewski and Cercone, JJ. Spaeth, President Judge, files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Cercone

[ 342 Pa. Super. Page 308]

This case arises on appeal by the Commonwealth ("appellant") from an Order dated January 8, 1983 in which the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County vacated the judgment of sentence originally imposed and granted the defendant a new trial. The Order was in response to defendant's petition under the Post Conviction Hearing Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. ยง 9541 et seq., in which defendant contended that trial counsel was ineffective in (1) failing to call the identification witnesses at the pre-trial suppression hearing and (2) in eliciting evidence of defendant's prior convictions for sex related offenses from defendant on direct examination where defendant was on trial for a sex offense. The court below found this conduct by trial counsel to constitute ineffective assistance of counsel and, therefore, granted defendant a new trial. We reverse.

Defendant was found guilty of Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse, Burglary, Felonious Restraint, Corruption of Minors and Indecent Assault. The charges arose out of an incident where a man (allegedly the defendant) entered the bunk room of a camp building at a private summer day camp and there invited a nine-year-old girl to accompany him into an older camp building. Once in the older building, the man grabbed the girl, put one hand over her mouth holding a knife in his other hand, threatened to kill her if she said anything, and forced her to engage in the act of sodomy. The victim observed the man throughout the occurrence in both the bunk room and the lobby of the first

[ 342 Pa. Super. Page 309]

    camp building which were well lighted and in the older building which was not well lighted. The incident occurred at noon on a sunny day. The director of the camp, the second witness, observed the man making a telephone call in the lobby of the first building. Both the victim and the director of the camp reported the crime to the police and gave a description of the man responsible. He was described as white, mustached and dressed in maroon pants and jacket. Maroon pants and jacket were found in defendant's house when it was searched.

Both the witness and the victim independently identified defendant in photographic arrays prior to his arrest. At the pre-trial suppression hearing, the officer who conducted the photographic identification process testified that he presented two photographic arrays to each of the identifying witnesses. The first array contained eight photographs of white males, one of which was the petitioner. After viewing this array neither of the identifying witnesses was able to make a positive identification. In the presence of the witnesses, the officer took out the picture of defendant and substituted an older photograph of him. Based on this later array, both witnesses identified the defendant. Neither witness was called to testify at the suppression hearing.

At the suppression hearing, trial counsel filed a motion to exclude defendant's prior convictions from being entered into evidence. The court ruled that the motion was premature. Counsel did not raise this motion at any subsequent proceeding. At trial, on direct examination, counsel asked defendant questions which revealed his prior convictions on sexual offenses.

Trial commenced following denial of defendant's motion to suppress identification and items seized. At the request of defendant's counsel, defendant was seated in the courtroom, rather than at counsel table, in a row of seats with a few other white males selected by his counsel. When asked to identify her assailant, the victim left the witness stand and led the assistant district attorney directly to the defendant

[ 342 Pa. Super. Page 310]

    and pointed him out as the man who was responsible for the crime.

At the PCHA hearing in this matter, defendant's trial counsel testified that he did not call the identifying witnesses during the pre-trial proceedings so as to prevent them from having further opportunity to observe the photo array or to observe the defendant. He reasoned that the effect of further observations would only serve to reinforce the defendant at trial. He further testified that he had decided to introduce defendant's prior criminal record for three reasons. The first was to show that defendant was being honest. The second was to show that none of his prior convictions were for crimes of violence. The third was to minimize the impact of such information on the jury.

In granting the applicant a new trial, the court below stated that our earlier holding in Commonwealth v. Brown, 302 Pa. Super.Ct. 80, 448 A.2d 535 (1982),*fn1 mandated a new trial. It cited Brown for the proposition that absent the testimony of the identification witnesses, the suppression court lacked facts necessary to determine whether or not the witness could make a reliable identification and, therefore, the Commonwealth had failed to carry its burden of proof.

The lower court's reliance on Brown is misplaced. In Brown, the defendant/appellant was appealing his conviction on a single issue, that is, whether it was error for the suppression court not to require the identification witnesses to testify about the photographic identification procedure. Our scope of review there was limited to whether the findings of the suppression court were supported by the record and whether the inferences and legal conclusion based thereon were correct.

[ 342 Pa. Super. Page 311]

In the instant case, we are reviewing an Order granting a new trial based on a decision of ineffectiveness of trial counsel. Our scope of review on this issue is twofold: (1) whether the issue underlying the charge of ineffectiveness is of arguable merit, and (2) if so, whether the course chosen by counsel had some reasonable basis designed to effectuate his client's interests. See: Commonwealth v. Stoyko, 504 Pa. 455, 472, 475 A.2d 714, 723 (1984); Commonwealth v. Tann, 500 Pa. 593, 600, 459 A.2d 322, 326 (1983).

The underlying issue is whether the photographic identification procedure was so unduly suggestive as to give rise to a substantial likelihood of misidentification and whether, if suggestive factors were involved, the witnesses' in-court identification had an "independent origin" in the witnesses' observation at the time of the crime. These certainly are issues of arguable merit. This court has long recognized the dangers involved in the photographic identification process. See i.e., Commonwealth v. Brown, supra; Commonwealth v. Johnson, 301 Pa. Super.Ct. 13, 446 A.2d 1311 (1982). Accord: Commonwealth v. Fowler, 466 Pa. 198, 204, 352 A.2d 17 (1976) citing Simmons v. United States, 390 U.S. 377, 88 S.Ct. 967, 19 L.Ed.2d 1247 (1968). However, on appellate review, we must consider whether defendant's trial counsel had a reasonable basis, designed to effectuate his client's interests, for his trial tactics. In Commonwealth v. Dunbar, 503 Pa. 590, 470 A.2d 74 (1983), our Supreme Court said:

Before a claim of ineffectiveness can be sustained, it must be determined that, in light of all the alternatives available to counsel, the strategy actually employed was so unreasonable that no competent attorney would have chosen it . . . . The test is not whether other alternatives were more reasonable, employing a hindsight evaluation of the record. We presume counsel is effective. Moreover, the burden of establishing ineffectiveness rests upon his client.

[ 342 Pa. Super. Page 312]

    situations, it may be reasonable trial strategy for the defense to bring those convictions out on direct examination in order to minimize their impact, thus muting the prosecutor's thunder." Supra, 455 Pa. at 208, 314 A.2d at 301. Likewise, this court in Commonwealth v. Candia, supra, did not establish a per se rule. In that case, the court found that trial counsel's decision to question the appellant about his past criminal acts served only to invite "very damaging cross-examination by the Commonwealth," supra 286 Pa. Super. at 288, 428 A.2d at 996, however, in that case there was no evidence that the defendant's character was in issue. On several occasions subsequent to Zapatta and Candia, this court has found trial counsel not to be ineffective for raising a defendant's prior criminal record. See, i.e., Commonwealth v. Palmer, supra, and Commonwealth v. Cayton, 300 Pa. Super.Ct. 417, 446 A.2d 924 (1982).

Therefore, we find, in light of the fact that the Commonwealth had an apparently very strong case against defendant and that he had no strong defense, that the strategy employed by trial counsel was not so unreasonable as to support defendant's claim of ineffectiveness. Based on the foregoing reasoning, we must reverse the Order of the court below which granted appellant a new trial.


SPAETH, President Judge, dissenting:

I should find trial counsel ineffective, and should therefore affirm the order granting a new trial. Indeed, I believe we should affirm on the opinion of the trial court, LOWE, P.J., which correctly characterizes counsel's "strategy [as] grossly inappropriate". Slip op. of tr. ct. at 1136.

It was the Commonwealth's burden to demonstrate "by clear and convincing evidence at a suppression hearing that the witness's proposed trial identification will be reliably based on the witness's observations at the scene of the

[ 342 Pa. Super. Page 315]

    crime . . . . Whether the prosecution has met its burden requires a consideration of the totality of the circumstances." Commonwealth v. Fowler, 466 Pa. 198, 204, 352 A.2d 17, 20 (1976). "The essential criteria in determining whether or not evidence of pre-trial identification is admissible is its reliability under all of the circumstances disclosed by the record." Commonwealth v. Thompkins, 311 Pa. Super.Ct. 357, at 363, 457 A.2d 925, at 928 (1983) (emphasis in original). Here, the only evidence of reliability offered by the Commonwealth at the suppression hearing was the testimony of the officer who conducted the identification procedure. It would seem impossible to undermine the reliability of the identifications without calling the witnesses themselves. I find counsel's explanation of why he didn't call them -- that he wanted to minimize the possibility of an accurate in-court identification -- quite unpersuasive: Why bother to make a motion to suppress and then conduct its prosecution so weakly as to ensure its denial?

Be this as it may, counsel's conduct of the motion to suppress is not the only issue: counsel also chose, on direct examination of appellant, to disclose that appellant had a prior record involving seventeen sexual offenses over the past fourteen years (at least two involving children). It is hard to imagine an attorney doing a greater disservice to his client's case. While the majority is of course correct that Commonwealth v. Zapata, 455 Pa. 205, 314 A.2d 299 (1974), and Commonwealth v. Candia, 286 Pa. Super.Ct. 282, 428 A.2d 993 (1981), do not establish a per se rule, those cases nevertheless should control our decision here, as the trial court noted. In Zapata, the Supreme Court cautioned that before defense counsel introduces evidence of prior crimes, "counsel should be convinced that such evidence is available to the prosecution . . . . In the absence of such certainty, counsel would be acting 'ineffectively' . . .," 455 Pa. at 208, 314 A.2d at 301. And in Candia this court equally decisively rejected the "strategy" of introducing evidence of a prior conviction to establish credibility when, as here, the conviction was not for a crimen falsi.

[ 342 Pa. Super. Page 316]

The majority's suggestion that appellant placed his character as a non-violent person in issue through his wife's testimony is not persuasive. Even if he did, since his prior convictions were for non-violent offenses, they would not have been available for impeachment. But in any case, counsel could have had no reasonable basis to suppose that he would serve appellant's interest by introducing evidence of appellant's character, whether through the wife's testimony or through proving appellant's prior criminal record.

The order granting a new trial should be affirmed.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.