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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. JEFFREY D. HILL (11/17/89)

decided: November 17, 1989.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE,
v.
JEFFREY D. HILL, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court dated January 20, 1988 at No. 714 Harrisburg 1988 affirming the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County at No. 86-10-167. Pa. Super. , A.2d (1988).

COUNSEL

Ralph W. Thorne, Williamsport, for appellant.

Kenneth A. Osokow, Dist. Atty., for appellee.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Larsen and McDermott, JJ., concur in the result.

Author: Zappala

[ 523 Pa. Page 271]

OPINION

We allowed appeal in this matter to determine the propriety of permitting a defendant to cross-examine a prosecution witness as to his prior guilty plea for which sentence has yet to be imposed. The purpose of such questioning is to attempt to establish a possible prosecution bias in the witness due to the pendancy of sentence and the implied

[ 523 Pa. Page 272]

    control the Commonwealth might exercise over that sentence if the witness' testimony is not favorable to the prosecutor's theory of the case. Both lower courts denied Appellant the use of such cross-examination, but for the reasons which follow, we reverse.

Appellant was arrested and charged with simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. The purported victim of this crime, Timothy Flook, testified on behalf of the Commonwealth at trial, and was it's main witness.

Mr. Flook, prior to trial, had pleaded guilty to burglary and related offenses in an unrelated matter and was awaiting sentencing. Appellant, pre-trial, sought permission to cross-examine Mr. Flook as to his guilty plea and pending sentencing in an attempt to show bias on the part of the witness. The trial court denied this request on the grounds that, absent sentence in the matter, the plea was not a final conviction.

The Superior Court, 375 Pa. Super. 617, 541 A.2d 28, in affirming the trial court's refusal to allow such cross examination, relied on two of its own pronouncements, Commonwealth v. Williams, 346 Pa. Super. 456, 499 A.2d 1089 (1985) and Commonwealth v. Finkelstein, 191 Pa. Super. 328, 156 A.2d 888 (1959). Williams, citing Finkelstein, set forth the rationale that:

Although it is proper to cross-examine concerning specific convictions of crimes affecting the credibility of the witness, the crimes must be those for which a sentence has been imposed. In Commonwealth v. Palarino, 168 Pa. Super. 152, 156, 77 A.2d 665, 667, it was said: "With respect to impeachment of witnesses by records of previous convictions, it has been decided that 'conviction' must be given its strict ...


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