Com. v. Johnson

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtBefore DREW; HORACE STERN; JONES; JONES
Citation74 A.2d 144,365 Pa. 303
Decision Date26 June 1950
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH v. JOHNSON.

Page 144

74 A.2d 144
365 Pa. 303
COMMONWEALTH

v.
JOHNSON.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
June 26, 1950.

[365 Pa. 305]

Page 145

William N. Nitzberg, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Colbert C. McClain, Asst. District Attorney, John H. Maurer, District Attorney, Philadelphia, for appellee.

[365 Pa. 304] Before DREW, C. J., and STERN, STEARNE, JONES and BELL, JJ.,

[365 Pa. 305] HORACE STERN, Justice.

Jasper Johnson, having been convicted by a jury of murder in the first degree with the imposition of the death penalty, appeals from the dismissal by the trial court of his motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment.

According to the Commonwealth, Aaron Turner, Johnson, and Clarence Lofton conspired to perpetrate a robbery at the Ace Broom Company factory in Philadelphia on December 15, 1945. Lofton stood outside and acted as the lookout. Turner and Johnson entered the premises, where they were met by Frank Endres, an employe of the factory. Turner hit him on the head with a piece of pipe or a sash-weight, knocking him down and causing injuries from which he died two days later. While he was lying on the floor Johnson went through his pockets and extracted a wallet containing about $175; he then threw the wallet into a coal pile underneath the elevator. The noise occasioned by the assault on Endres brought Charles Simmons, the proprietor of the factory, running into the room; Turner struck him with the same weapon, knocking him to the floor and causing injuries from which he died seven days later. While he was lying on the floor Turner robbed him of his money, the amount of which is not disclosed in the testimony. Turner and Johnson ran out, joined Lofton, and the three of them proceeded to a taproom where they had several drinks and divided the spoils. Johnson was apprehended on June 3, 1946; the two others had been arrested previously, Turner earlier on the same day. Johnson was placed in a cellroom in City Hall and confined[365 Pa. 306] there until June 8, a period of five days, when he was taken before a magistrate and testified; he was held for the action of the grand jury and committed without bail. At his trial, which took place in 1947, he denied that he had participated in any way in the robbery and murders.

Johnson's first complaint on this appeal is in regard to references made during the trial, both by the district attorney and the trial judge, to the murder of Charles Simmons; also that the coroner's physician was allowed to testify concerning his autopsy on the body of Simmons and his finding that injuries to the head had caused Simmons' death. It can scarcely be seriously argued that mention of Simmons and the manner of his death should, or could, have been eliminated from the trial since the assaults on Endres and Simmons were made at the same time, with the same weapon, and in the course of the same criminal undertaking. No coherent narrative of the event could have excluded the facts as to the entrance into the room of Simmons and the attack upon him immediately after the assault upon Endres, the robbery from both their bodies, and the flight of the three conspirators from the scene. It all occurred at the same place and time.

During the course of the four or five days of Johnson's incarceration prior to the magistrate's hearing he was questioned from time to time by detectives, either singly or in groups; this was admitted by the Commonwealth and testified to by the detectives themselves. On the night of June 7 he signed a written confession admitting his participation in the crime and reciting in detail the facts in regard thereto; it is suggested by the district attorney that his cooperation with the Commonwealth came after finding out that he had been cheated by Turner in the division of the stolen

Page 146

money. During this period of detention he was not represented by a lawyer, but he made no request for one except to inquire[365 Pa. 307] whether there would be counsel to represent him when his case came up for trial in court, and he was assured that he would then be represented by an attorney appointed by the court. Except that he wanted to see his 'girl friend' he did not ask to be allowed to communicate with any of his friends or relatives; on the contrary, he said that he did not want to see any of them. He claims to have been beaten at various times in connection with the interrogations, but this was strenuously denied by the detectives and no marks or bruises on his body were ever observed by anyone; he did not make any complaint to the magistrate or to the prison authorities that he had suffered any such beatings, nor did he seek the services of the jail physician; his asertion, therefore, that he was beaten is, to say the least, of dubious veracity and was obviously rejected by the jury. The learned trial judge instructed the jury that, if force or duress of any kind had been exerted upon him to compel him to make a statement, a confession so obtained could not be used in evidence against him and that the jury should discard it entirely in their consideration of the case; it was only if made voluntarily that it could be regarded as trustworthy, in which event they could give it such force and effect as they thought it entitled to under the circumstances. This submission to the jury of the question whether the inculpatory statement was coerced or was voluntary was in accord with long established Pennsylvania law. Commonwealth v. Spardute, 278 Pa. 37, 48, 122 A. 161, 165; Commonwealth v. Jones, 341 Pa. 541, 548, 549, 19 A.2d 389, 393; Commonwealth v. Simmons, 361 Pa. 391, 400, 401, 65 A.2d 353, 358. Of course it is recognized that the jury's decision on that issue is not conclusive, but is subject to judicial review in order to ascertain whether the methods employed by the police authorities to obtain the confession constituted a violation of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment of the constitution.

[365 Pa. 308] Johnson's principal contention on this appeal is that his signed confession should not have been admitted in evidence because, apart from the alleged, but controverted, beatings, he was held for four or five days after his arrest before being taken before a magistrate for a preliminary hearing, and during that period was subjected to the questioning previously stated. For support of his position he relies upon decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, which we therefore proceed to examine.

In Ziang Sung Wan v. United States, 266 U.S. 1, 45 S.Ct. 1, 69 L.Ed. 131, the accused, a very sick man, was subjected to persistent, lengthy cross-examination day and night by detectives. For ten hours he was led continuously from floor to floor of the building where the murder had occurred. On one occasion the questioning continued from 7 o'clock in the evening until 5 o'clock in the morning during which time he was not allowed to sleep. A confession obtained from him after twelve days of such methods was held inadmissible in evidence.

In Brown v. State of Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278, 56 S.Ct. 461, 80 L.Ed. 682, the accused was seized by a mob, hung by a rope to the limb of a tree, whipped with a leather strap, and threatened with even more severe treatment. It was held that a conviction which rested solely upon a confession thus obtained was void under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In Chambers v. State of Florida, 309 U.S. 227, 60 S.Ct. 472, 84 L.Ed. 716, the accused, under a haunting fear of mob violence, was subjected to persistent and repeated questioning almost continuously for a week and finally at a session beginning at 3:30 o'clock in the afternoon and lasting all night, being carried on while he was surrounded by the sheriff, the sheriff's deputies, a convict guard, and other officers and citizens. An admission obtained in the early morning after the all-night vigil was held to be compulsory and the conviction obtained by its use was set aside.

[365 Pa. 309] In White v. State of Texas, 310 U.S. 530, 60 S.Ct. 1032, 84 L.Ed. 1342, the accused was kept in jail for six or seven days, and on several successive nights was taken

Page 147

by armed rangers into the woods where he was whipped and interrogated. He was questioned from about 11 o'clock one night to 3 or 3:30 o'clock in the morning. The confession then obtained was held to have been coerced and its use at the trial a violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In Lisenba v. People of State of California, 314 U.S. 219, 62 S.Ct. 280, 86 L.Ed. 166, the accused was questioned on two occasions at the district attorney's office,--once throughout the night and again the following night from early evening until 3 o'clock the next morning. After being detained in custody for eleven days, during which time he was not examined, he was again interrogated and, after a protracted inquisition, finally confessed at 3 o'clock in the morning. Although his detention was illegal under the state law it was held that the confession was voluntary and its use at the trial was proper.

In Ward v. State of Texas, 316 U.S. 547, 62 S.Ct. 1139, 86 L.Ed. 1663, the accused, after being arrested, was driven around during three days and nights from county to county, incarcerated in a place more than a hundred miles from his home, questioned continuously, and frightened with threats of mob violence. It was held that the use of the confession obtained under such circumstances was a denial of due process and voided the conviction.

In McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332, 63 S.Ct. 608, 87 L.Ed. 819, the accused persons were detained in a room where there was nothing they could sit or lie down on except the floor. On two successive nights they were questioned on and off by at least six officers, beginning at 9 o'clock and continuing until 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning. It was held that the evidence thereby elicited should have been excluded. It was emphasized in...

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28 practice notes
  • Davis v. State, 1 Div. 937
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Appeals
    • April 7, 1964
    ...U.S. 68, 69 S.Ct. 1354, 93 L.Ed. 1815 (212 S.C. 124, 46 S.E.2d 682). Johnson v. Pennsylvania, 340 U.S. 881, 71 S.Ct. 191, 95 L.Ed. 640 (365 Pa. 303, 74 A.2d 144). Leyra v. Denno, 347 U.S. 556, 74 S.Ct. 716, 98 L.Ed. 948 (reversing 2 Cir., 208 F.2d 605). Cf. People v. Leyra, 304 N.Y. 468, 10......
  • Com. v. Kloiber
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • June 28, 1954
    ...v. Simmons, 361 Pa. 391, 401, 65 A.2d 353; Turner v. Pennsylvania, 338 U.S. 62, 69 S.Ct. 1352, 93 L.Ed. 1810; Commonwealth v. Johnson, 365 Pa. 303, 74 A.2d 144. But it is not the law that if the jury finds the written statement of the defendant or some parts of it was untruthful it must rej......
  • Com. v. Sparrow
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • February 28, 1977
    ...the determination of the (trier) of facts if there was any substantial evidence to support (its) conclusion' Commonwealth v. Johnson, 365 Pa. 303, 314, 74 A.2d 144, 149, reversed on other grounds, 340 U.S. 881, 71 S.Ct. 191, 95 L.Ed. 640 See also Commonwealth v. Tucker, 461 Pa. 191, 335 A.2......
  • Commonwealth v. Kloiber
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • June 28, 1954
    ...v. Simmons, 361 Pa. 391, 401, 65 A.2d 353; Turner v. Pennsylvania, 338 U.S. 62, 69 S.Ct. 1352, 93 L.Ed. 1810; Commonwealth v. Johnson, 365 Pa. 303, 74 A.2d 144.But it is not the law that if the jury finds the written statement of the defendant or some parts of it was untruthful it must reje......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
27 cases
  • Davis v. State, 1 Div. 937
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Appeals
    • April 7, 1964
    ...U.S. 68, 69 S.Ct. 1354, 93 L.Ed. 1815 (212 S.C. 124, 46 S.E.2d 682). Johnson v. Pennsylvania, 340 U.S. 881, 71 S.Ct. 191, 95 L.Ed. 640 (365 Pa. 303, 74 A.2d 144). Leyra v. Denno, 347 U.S. 556, 74 S.Ct. 716, 98 L.Ed. 948 (reversing 2 Cir., 208 F.2d 605). Cf. People v. Leyra, 304 N.Y. 468, 10......
  • Com. v. Kloiber
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • June 28, 1954
    ...v. Simmons, 361 Pa. 391, 401, 65 A.2d 353; Turner v. Pennsylvania, 338 U.S. 62, 69 S.Ct. 1352, 93 L.Ed. 1810; Commonwealth v. Johnson, 365 Pa. 303, 74 A.2d 144. But it is not the law that if the jury finds the written statement of the defendant or some parts of it was untruthful it must rej......
  • Com. v. Sparrow
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • February 28, 1977
    ...the determination of the (trier) of facts if there was any substantial evidence to support (its) conclusion' Commonwealth v. Johnson, 365 Pa. 303, 314, 74 A.2d 144, 149, reversed on other grounds, 340 U.S. 881, 71 S.Ct. 191, 95 L.Ed. 640 See also Commonwealth v. Tucker, 461 Pa. 191, 335 A.2......
  • Commonwealth v. Kloiber
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • June 28, 1954
    ...v. Simmons, 361 Pa. 391, 401, 65 A.2d 353; Turner v. Pennsylvania, 338 U.S. 62, 69 S.Ct. 1352, 93 L.Ed. 1810; Commonwealth v. Johnson, 365 Pa. 303, 74 A.2d 144.But it is not the law that if the jury finds the written statement of the defendant or some parts of it was untruthful it must reje......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The Supreme Court as Protector of Civil Rights: Criminal Justice
    • United States
    • ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, The Nbr. 275-1, May 1951
    • May 1, 1951
    ...same crime and that Turner’s confession set aside a conviction under a New York was used against Johnson (see Com. v. John- law which son, 365 Pa. 303—1950) . Convictions were punished the publication of upheld in Lisenba v. California, 314 U. S. 219 printed matter &dquo;principally&d......

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