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INVESTIGATING GRAND JURY CHESTER COUNTY (07/27/88)

decided: July 27, 1988.

IN RE INVESTIGATING GRAND JURY OF CHESTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA SUBPOENA NO. 91. PETITION OF KAREN LEES


Petition for Review of the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County entered on November 20, 1987 at No. 69 M 1987

COUNSEL

John R. Merrick, Public Defender, John A. DiSantis, Philadelphia, John S. Carnes, Jr., Asst. Public Defenders, West Chester, for petitioner.

Joseph W. Carroll, II, Glenmoore, for respondent.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala, Papadakos and Stout, JJ. McDermott, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which Stout, J., joined.

Author: Larsen

[ 518 Pa. Page 487]

OPINION OF THE COURT

The issue presented by this petition for review*fn1 is whether a witness who testifies before a grand jury that she cannot recall the events about which she is being questioned can be found in civil contempt and committed to prison.

On June 11, 1987, the Second Chester County Investigating Grand Jury began receiving evidence regarding a series of burglaries which had occurred in Tredyffrin Township during April and May of 1987. The grand jury recommended that charges be brought against petitioner, Karen Lees, for the burglary of two residences in which her fingerprints had been found. Criminal complaints were filed against petitioner, and on November 12, 1987, petitioner entered an Alford plea*fn2 to two counts of burglary and two counts of conspiracy in the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County. She was then served with a subpoena, ordering her to appear before the Chester County Investigating Grand Jury to testify.*fn3

Petitioner appeared before the grand jury on November 19, 1987, and was questioned about her participation in the

[ 518 Pa. Page 488]

    burglaries to which she had entered an Alford plea and whether she had committed any burglaries with Edward Doria, whose burglary cases were then pending in the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County.*fn4 Petitioner replied that she had no recollection of participating in any burglaries. She was brought before the judge supervising the grand jury and was found to be in civil contempt of court. Citing In re Grand Jury, April Term, 1977, Wayne County, 251 Pa. Super. 43, 379 A.2d 323 (1977),*fn5 the supervising judge concluded that petitioner's lack of recollection regarding burglaries to which she had entered a plea was unbelievable, and the supervising judge sentenced petitioner to six months' imprisonment unless she purged herself of contempt by answering questions before the grand jury. The supervising judge denied petitioner's motion for stay of the contempt order, but on November 25, 1987, Mr. Chief Justice Nix granted a request for a stay and petitioner was released.

This Court stated in Schlesinger Petition, 367 Pa. 476, 480, 81 A.2d 316, 318 (1951), that when a court rules that a person is in contempt, "the appellate court will not inquire further than to ascertain whether the record shows such misconduct or disobedience of the court's order." ...


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