Com. v. Hill

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Citation566 A.2d 252,523 Pa. 270
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Jeffrey D. HILL, Appellant. 28 M.D. 1988
Decision Date17 November 1989

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

Before NIX, C.J., and LARSEN, FLAHERTY, McDERMOTT, ZAPPALA and PAPADAKOS, JJ.

OPINION

ZAPPALA, Justice.

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 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 technical meaning. Neither a verdict nor a plea will, without more, suffice...." Id. at 333-34, 156 A.2d at 892.

Williams, 499 A.2d at 1092.

This court, however, has consistently held that the that the right to cross examination is essential to the protections granted under the Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 9 of our State Constitution. See, Commonwealth v. Peetros, 517 Pa. 260, 535 A.2d 1026 (1987), Commonwealth v. Slaughter, 482 Pa. 538, 394 A.2d 453 (1978). As such, it is the policy of this court to allow full cross-examination so long as it is relevant to the search for the truth of the matter under trial. This is especially true where the witness sought to be discredited is a major witness against the defendant and whose covert reasons for testifying in the matter must be allowed to be exposed. See, Peetros (supra ).

As Appellant correctly points out, this court has held, under similar facts, that:

... whenever a prosecution witness may be biased in favor of the prosecution because of outstanding criminal charges or because of any non-final criminal disposition against him within the same jurisdiction, that possible bias, in fairness, must be made known to the jury. Even if the prosecutor has made no promises, either on the present case or on other pending criminal matters, the witness may hope for favorable treatment from the prosecutor if the witness presently...

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18 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Reid
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • 18 Agosto 2020
    ...not have been ineffective for not presenting this evidence of alleged bias." Commonwealth's Brief at 29-30 (citing Commonwealth v. Hill , 523 Pa. 270, 566 A.2d 252, 253 (1989) (jury must be advised of possible bias only when there are outstanding criminal charges or a non-final disposition ......
  • Com. v. Eicher
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • 29 Enero 1992
    ...is correct in his assertion that promises of leniency or favorable treatment must be revealed. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Hill, 523 Pa. 270, 273, 566 A.2d 252, 253 (1989) and Commonwealth v. Ocasio, 394 Pa.Super. 100, 103, 574 A.2d 1165, 1167-1168 (1990) (in which the appellate courts have ......
  • Commonwealth v. Reid
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • 20 Agosto 2014
    ...ineffective for not presenting evidence of alleged bias as the charges had been dismissed at time of trial, citing Commonwealth v. Hill, 523 Pa. 270, 566 A.2d 252, 253 (1989) (explaining jury must be advised of bias when there are “outstanding criminal charges or because of any nonfinal cri......
  • Com. v. O'Shea
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • 13 Diciembre 1989
    ...to determine whether the cross-examination for bias would affect the jury's determination of the case. See also Commonwealth v. Hill, --- Pa. ----, 566 A.2d 252 (1989). Just as a defendant must be given the opportunity to cross-examine such a prosecution witness on his possible motivations ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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