Com. v. Hamilton

Decision Date16 October 1974
Citation329 A.2d 212,459 Pa. 304
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Arnold HAMILTON, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Norman C. Henss, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Arlen Specter, Dist. Atty., Richard A. Sprague, First Asst. Dist. Atty., Milton M. Stein, Asst. Dist. Atty., Chief, Appeals Div., B. H. Levintow, Philadelphia, for appellee.



POMEROY, Justice.

Appellant, Arnold Hamilton, was convicted by a jury in Philadelphia County of murder in the first degree, carrying a concealed weapon, and unlawfully carrying a firearm without a license. After the denial of post-trial motions for a new trial and for arrest of judgment, he was sentenced to life imprisonment on the murder charge. It is from this judgment of sentence that he appeals.

The facts of the case may be briefly stated. On December 29, 1967, appellant visited the maternity ward of the Woman's Medicine College Hospital in Philadelphia, where his wife, Cynthia Hamilton, was a patient following the delivery of a baby three days previously. There were several other visitors and patients in the room, including Mrs. Hamilton's step-father. The appellant set beside his wife's bed for a period of time. At approximately 8:00 p.m., Mrs. Himilton received a telephone call. As she turned to answer the 'phone, appellant shot her in the back of the head. After firing two more shots into her body, he turned the gun on himself, shooting himself twice in the chest. The wounds inflicted upon his wife proved fatal; from those inflicted upon himself the appellant recovered. At trial, the appellant did not contest the fact that he did shoot and kill his wife. His defense was that he was insane at the time of the commission of the act, and competent evidence was introduced to that effect.

Appellant asserts eight trial errors in support of reversal and the grant of a new trial. Four of these assignments were not raised at trial, and will therefore not be considered on this appeal. 1 Commonwealth v. Little, 449 Pa. 28, 32, 295 A.2d 287 (1972); Commonwealth v. Rogers, 440 Pa. 598, 601, 269 A.2d 449 (1970). Although it is urged that these errors, especially those involved in the charge to the jury, were 'basic and fundamental', See e.g., Commonwealth v. Jennings, 442 Pa. 18, 24--26, 274 A.2d 767 (1971), this Court has recently discarded that exception to the general rule that an appellate court will not reverse on a point where no exception or only a general exception was taken to the charge, or on a ground not raised in or by the court below. Commonwealth v. Clair, Pa., 326 A.2d 272 (decided Oct. 1, 1974); Dilliplaine v. Lehigh Valley Trust Co., Pa., 322 A.2d 114 (decided July 1, 1974). 2 It is, therefore, unnecessary for us to address ourselves to the question of whether the errors, if such they were, were of the sort to qualify under the 'basic and fundamental' approach. Our review of the assignments properly before the Court satisfies us that no error of law or abuse of discretion was made at the trial of this case, and that judgment should be affirmed.

In support of his insanity defense, appellant presented, in addition to his own testimony and that of lay witnesses, the testimony of a qualified psychiatrist, Dr. Theodore Kushner. Dr. Kushner gave it as his opinion that, at the time of the shooting, the appellant 'had a defect of reasoning, due to a disease of the mind' that rendered him 'unable to appreciate the nature and quality of his act'. The doctor was then asked whether he had an opinion as to whether Hamilton 'was so entirely perverted as rendered the commission of the deed an overwhelming necessity when he shot and killed his wife'. Objection to this question was sustained, and appellant urges this ruling as prejudicial error. Immediately thereafter, however, the witness was allowed to respond to a question whether appellant was 'suffering a stopgap of his intelligent control and his will, and it rendered it impossible to do otherwise but yield thereto'. The answer given was 'yes'. The doctor then added, 'I think Arnold Hamilton had no choice because of his mental illness.' If the exclusion of an answer to the first question was error, it would seem to have been cured by the admission of an answer to the second. Moreover, the court affirmed appellant's point for charge (No. 7) that, if Hamilton had 'such unsoundness of mind that it subjugated his intellect, control and will so that it became impossible for him in his mental state to do other than as he did', the verdict must be not guilty by reason of insanity.

The appellant concedes that the question to which objection was sustained, Viz., whether the shooting was 'an overwhelming necessity', did not state a test within the M'Naghten Rule. Because, however, of the further opinion allowed to be given by Dr. Kushner, and the quoted point for charge, which was given not only once but twice, the jury was, in effect, allowed to consider 'overwhelming necessity' in its determination of whether or not appellant was sane. The permitted testimony and the point for charge were both more favorable to appellant than he was entitled to; we thus see no reason on this record to comply with appellant's request to reconsider M'Naghten and all of our cases which have followed it since 1846, when Chief Justice Gibson in effect incorporated the rule of that case into our law, Commonwealth v. Mosler, 4 Pa. 264 (1846). Commonwealth v. Woodhouse, 401 Pa. 242, 250, 164 A.2d 98 (1960). Our recent expansion of the permissible use of psychiatric testimony in Commonwealth v. McCusker, 448 Pa. 382, 292 A.2d 286 (1972) was accompanied by disavowal of departure from M'Naghten, and in Commonwealth v. Demmit, Pa., 321 A.2d 627 (filed July 1, 1974), we expressly reaffirmed M'Naghten: '(T)he law in Pennsylvania is that in order to establish insanity, a defendant must still meet at least one part of the two-pronged M'Naghten test. There must be evidence in the case from whatever source that he did not know the nature and the quality of his act or that he did not know that it was wrong.'

In a related argument, appellant alleges error in the trial court's refusal of five points for charge on 'homicidal mania'. The doctrine of homicidal mania also seems to have found its first expression in this state in Commonwealth v. Mosler, Supra, apparently as a variant of insanity in the M'Naghten sense: '(T)here is a Moral or Homicidal insanity, consisting of an irresistable inclination to kill, or to commit some other particular offense. There may be an unseen ligament pressing on the mind, drawing it to consequences which it sees, but cannot avoid, and placing it under a coercion, which, while its results are clearly perceived, is incapable of resistance.' Commonwealth v. Mosler, Supra, 4 Pa. at 267. After thus stating the nature of the 'mania', Chief Justice Gibson immediately voiced caveats concerning it: It 'is dangerous in its relations', is to be recognized 'only in the clearest cases', should be 'shown to have been habitual', and should be confined 'within the strictest limits'. Then followed this summary: 'To establish it as a justification in any particular case, it is necessary either to show, by clear proof, its contemporaneous existence evinced by present circumstances, or the existence of an habitual tendency developed in previous cases, becoming in itself second nature.' Ibid.

Doubt has been cast on the homicidal mania doctrine. Commonwealth v. Thomas, 444 Pa. 436, 443, 282 A.2d 693 (1971); Commonwealth v. Woodhouse, Supra, 401 Pa. at 259, 164 A.2d 98; Commonwealth v. Daverse, 364 Pa. 623, 73 A.2d 405 (1950). Appellant asks us to recognize its continued validity, while the Commonwealth asserts that it is no longer a viable legal principle. We need not, however, reach that problem in this case. As in Commonwealth v. Thomas, Supra, and Commonwealth v. Woodhouse, Supra, so here: assuming that homicidal mania, if proved, can still serve to exonerate for a criminal act, 'the proof failed to satisfactorily establish such a mania in this case'. Commonwealth v. Thomas, Supra, 444 Pa. at 443, 444, 282 A.2d at 698. There was evidence that appellant had viciously attacked his wife by choking on a prior occasion, but there was no evidence that would support a finding of 'an habitual tendency developed in previous cases, becoming in itself second nature'. Commonwealth v. Mosler, Supra, 4 Pa. at 267. Neither was there any 'clear proof', shown 'by present circumstances', of the 'contemporaneous existence' of the mania. Ibid. (Emphasis supplied.)

Appellant's next contention involves the quality of the Commonwealth's...

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  • Com. v. Albrecht
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • October 21, 1986
    ...v. Holland, 480 Pa. 202, 389 A.2d 1026 (1978); Commonwealth v. Yount, 455 Pa. 303, 314 A.2d 242 (1979); Commonwealth v. Hamilton, 459 Pa. 304, 329 A.2d 212 (1974); Commonwealth v. Kravitz, 400 Pa. 198, 161 A.2d 861 (1960), cert. denied, 365 U.S. 846, 81 S.Ct. 807, 5 L.Ed.2d 811 (1961). Appe......

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