Com. v. Feldman

Citation248 A.2d 1,432 Pa. 428
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Susan L. FELDMAN, Appellant.
Decision Date12 November 1968
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Bernard J. Myers, Jr., William A. Atlee, Jr., Lancaster, for appellant

Clarence C. Newcomer, Dist. Atty., Henry J. Rutherford, D. Richard Eckman, Asst. Dist. Attys., Lancaster, for appellee.



ROBERTS, Justice.

Appellant was found guilty of first degree murder after entering a plea of guilty to a charge of murder generally. She now assigns as error the introduction at her degree of guilt hearing of two statements made by her to the police and district attorney shortly after she was arrested for this crime. 1 The Commonwealth not only contends that these statements were admissible but also claims that the validity of these confessions is not properly before us because an appellant may Only attack the validity of the plea and the lawfulness of the sentence once a guilty plea is entered. We shall discuss each of these contentions separately.

The Propriety of Deciding These Issues

This Court has held that only the validity of the plea and the lawfulness of the sentence may be raised on appeal from the entry of a guilty plea. Commonwealth v. Stokes, 426 Pa. 265, 232 A.2d 193 (1967). This is generally true of all guilty pleas Except when, following the plea of guilty to murder generally, the defendant is convicted of murder in the first degree. In this situation a degree of guilt hearing will have been conducted in which the Commonwealth has had the burden of proving the elements of murder in the first degree beyond a reasonable doubt. It is only appropriate that the accused should have an opportunity to assign as errors for review objections he may have to this degree of guilt proceeding. See Commonwealth v. Walters, 431 Pa. 74, 77 n. 1, 244 A.2d 757 n. 1 (1968); Commonwealth v. Stokes, supra, 426 Pa. at 268 n. 5, 232 A.2d at 194 n. 5. This is exactly the situation before us in this appeal: the appellant does not challenge the validity of her guilty plea; nor does she claim that the allegedly coerced confessions induced her guilty plea; her only assignment for error is the correctness of admitting into evidence in the degree of guilt hearing statements which she claims were procured by the district attorney without complying with the standards in Miranda v. State of Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). The challenge to the statements is properly before us and we shall proceed to a determination on the merits.


In order to fully understand appellant's contention, the factual setting surrounding this statement is crucial. Officers of the local police force were summoned to the apartment of a neighbor of the appellant the day after the murder. The neighbor wanted to point out to them blood stains which were apparently left on the door when appellant came upstairs the night before to use the neighbor's phone. As the two policemen were leaving the apartment building they met the appellant leaving the same building with another couple. When asked where she was going, she replied that she was taking a short vacation. The police officers then requesting that she come down to the police station first so that the chief of police could talk to her. She was given a choice of coming down in her own car or joining the police; she chose the latter.

At the police station, Chief Bink questioned appellant for approximately one hour, until he acquired a feeling that she was involved in the case. 2 At this point the chief ceased all discussions with her that were in any way connected with the crime and she was then placed alone in the Borough Council Chamber for about one and one half hours. It was now about 9:00 P.M. and the district attorney finally had secured an operating tape recorder. She was first given the Miranda warnings and the officials then proceeded to elicit from appellant the statement under consideration.

Appellant advances several alternative grounds for her contention that the confession of March 30th should have been suppressed. First, she claims that the original questioning by Chief Bink constitutes an 'in-custody' interrogation, which, under Miranda, is illegal unless it is preceded by the appropriate warnings. To pass on this contention we must determine whether appellant, at the time she first arrived at the police station, was under the circumstances within the ambit of those intended to be protected by Miranda. Miranda defines 'custodial interrogation' as 'questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.' But our inquiry to ascertain those who are entitled to the Miranda warnings cannot stop with this definition alone. Miranda clearly refers us to the standard developed in Escobedo v. State of Illinois, 378 U.S. 478, 84 S.Ct. 1758, 84 S.Ct. 1758, 12 L.Ed.2d 977 (1964). 3 In Escobedo, the Supreme Court held that the defendant must be informed of certain rights when 'the investigation is no longer a general inquiry into an unsolved crime but has begun to focus on a particular suspect.' Id. at 490, 84 S.Ct. at 1765. From reading Escobedo and Miranda together it becomes clear that whenever an individual is questioned while in custody Or while the object of an investigation of which he is the focus, before Any questioning begins the individual must be given the warnings established in Miranda. See Commonwealth v. Jefferson, 423 Pa. 541, 226 A.2d 765 (1967); Commonwealth v. Barclay, 212 Pa.Super. 25, 240 A.2d 838 (1968) (Hoffman, J. dissenting); Windsor v. United States, 389 F.2d 530, 534 (5th Cir. 1968); Graham, What is Custodial Interrogation? ': California's Anticipatory Application of Miranda v. Arizona, 14 U.C.L.A.L.Rev. 59, 114--117 (1966); cf. Allen v. United States, 390 F.2d 476 (D.C. Cir. 1968).

In this case it is our view that the preliminary discussion between the police chief and appellant before 9:00 P.M. was proper. The court below concluded after the suppression hearing that 'she voluntarily went to the Columbia Police station.' This finding by the court refutes appellant's claim that she was in custody or 'was deprived of her freedom of action in any significant way.' The order of the hearing judge at the suppression hearing also contains the finding of fact that 'Chief Bink stopped his conversation with defendant immediately upon learning of her relationship with the husband of the deceased woman and acquiring the feeling that she was involved in the case.' Appellant's argument that the investigation had focused upon her at an earlier stage of the questioning must be...

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  • Com. v. Holcomb
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
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    ...... 384 U.S. at 444, n. 4, 86 S.Ct. at 1612, n. 4. .         Some two years later, this Court, in Commonwealth v. Feldman, 432 Pa. 428, 248 A.2d 1 (1968), set forth its interpretation of a defendant's rights under Miranda and Escobedo: . From reading Escobedo and Miranda together it becomes clear that whenever an individual is questioned while in custody or while the object of an investigation of which he is the ......
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