Commonwealth v. Matthews

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtAuthor: Eagen
Citation446 Pa. 65,285 A.2d 510
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. William MATTHEWS, Appellant.
Decision Date29 December 1971

285 A.2d 510

446 Pa. 65

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee,

William MATTHEWS, Appellant.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

December 29, 1971.

[285 A.2d 511]

[446 Pa. 67] Abraham J. Brem Levy, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Arlen Specter, Dist. Atty., James D. Crawford, Deputy Dist. Atty., Milton M. Stein, Asst. Dist. Atty., Chief, Appeals Div., Louis A. Perez, Jr., Asst. Dist. Atty., Richard A. Sprague, First Asst. Dist. Atty., Philadelphia, for appellee.



EAGEN, Justice.

William Matthews, sentenced to life imprisonment following his conviction by a jury of murder in the first degree, appeals from the judgment of sentence.

The sufficiency of the trial evidence to sustain the verdict is not questioned, nonetheless, we have studied the record and are satisfied the evidence was ample to establish Matthews' guilt of murder in the first degree beyond a reasonable doubt.

[446 Pa. 68] From the evidence, the jury was warranted in finding that Matthews, on February 23, 1968, acting in concert with his nephew, James Williams, and a friend, James Jackson, robbed Randolph Butts in Philadelphia and during the perpetration of the robbery Butts was stabbed four times by one of the felons, causing injury which resulted in Butts' death.

Appellant cites several alleged errors during the prosecution proceedings which he asserts require a new trial. We conclude these assignments of error are without merit for the reasons that follow.

During the investigation of the crimes involved, the police apprehended and questioned Williams, who admitted having participated in the commission of the robbery, and accused Matthews and Jackson of also having participated and informed the police that Matthews had hidden the knife used in the stabbing in an apartment at a certain address. Based on this information, an investigating officer caused a search warrant to issue for the apartment. The complaining affidavit signed by a police detective, Verbrugghe, stated the following:

'On Fr. 2--23--68 about 11:00 p.m. Randolph Butts 40--N., 4--38 Green St. was taken from the highway 3856 Haverford Ave. to the Presbyterian Hosp. and pronounced dead from stab wounds of the back. Investigation disclosed that James Williams 18--N., res. 3856 Haverford Avenue took part in the robbery of Randolph Butts. James Williams stated that William Matthews 18--N. 3856 Haverford and James Jackson 19--N., 4422 Brown St. had stabbed Randolph Butts and hid the knife in the 3rd floor apartment (rear) of 3856 Haverford Ave.' [285 A.2d 512]

The warrant described the property sought as 'one pocket knife' and bloody clothing worn by William Matthews on Friday, February 23, 1968.

[446 Pa. 69] Upon arriving at 3856 Haverford Avenue at 12:30 a.m. on February 24th, (the apartment of appellant's sister), the police took appellant into custody, placed him under arrest, and pursuant to the warrant seized an eight-inch kitchen knife (otherwise described as a 'butter knife').

Initially, appellant suggests that the affidavit upon which the search and seizure warrant was based lacks the requisite information for a finding of probable cause.

The foundation of the law of search and seizure is the Fourth Amendment, which is binding on the states under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081 (1961). The Fourth Amendment in pertinent part provides: 'No warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation. . . .' And it is now well established that a magistrate may not constitutionally issue a search warrant until he is furnished with information sufficient to persuade a reasonable man that probable cause for the search exists. Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410, 89 S.Ct. 584, 21 L.Ed.2d 637 (1969); Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108, 84 S.Ct. 1509, 12 L.Ed.2d 723 (1964). The purpose of requiring this information is to give the magistrate the opportunity of knowing and weighing the facts and determining objectively for himself the need for invading a person's privacy in order to enforce the law. McDonald v. United States, 335 U.S. 451, 69 S.Ct. 191, 93 L.Ed. 153 (1948). His decision must be based solely on the information brought to his attention. Aguilar v. Texas, supra; Giordenello v. United States, 357 U.S. 480, 78 S.Ct. 1245, 2 L.Ed.2d 1503 (1958). He must render his decision based on a commonsense reading of the entire affidavit. United States v. Ventresca, 380 U.S. 102, 85 S.Ct. 741, 13 L.Ed.2d 684 (1965); Commonwealth v. Payton, 212 Pa.Super. 254, 243 A.2d 202 (1968). Thus [446 Pa. 70] the long standing principle, that probable cause will be determined by a 'neutral and detached magistrate' and not by 'the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime,' Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 68 S.Ct. 367, 92 L.Ed. 436 (1948), will be complied with.

The appropriate benchmark for a determination of whether a search and seizure warrant is valid is Aguilar v. Texas, supra, as explicated in Spinelli v. United States, supra. In these two cases the United States Supreme Court developed the following two-pronged test for ascertaining the validity of a warrant:

'First, the application failed to set forth any of the 'underlying circumstances' necessary to enable the magistrate independently to judge of the validity of the informant's conclusion . . .. Second, the affiant-officers did not attempt to support their claim that their informant was "credible' or his information 'reliable"'. 393 U.S. 413, 89 S.Ct. at 587.

The thrust of appellant's argument seems to go to the second facet of the aforementioned test in that the requesting officer did not attempt to support his claim that the informant was credible or his information reliable. The Commonwealth counterargues that since the informant was a participant in the crime 'and he personally witnessed, and was a party to, the events related to Detective Verbrugghe' this should insure his reliability.

The case law is clear that when a person is an admitted participant in a crime, and the police attempt to secure a warrant upon the information received from him, the second aspect of the Supreme Court's test is met, since the fact that the individual admits participation in the crime insures his reliability. See generally, United States v. Viggiano, 433 F.2d 716 (2d Cir. 1970); Louie v. United [285 A.2d 513] States, 426 F.2d 1398 (9th Cir. 1970); [446 Pa. 71] Gilbert v. United States, 366 F.2d 923 (9th Cir. 1966); Owens v. Scafati, 273 F.Supp. 428 (D.Mass.1967); Commonwealth v. Stewart, Mass., 267 N.E.2d 213 (1971); Commonwealth v. Rose, 211 Pa.Super. 295, 235 A.2d 462 (1967).

All of the above cases however, are slightly distinguished from the instant case in that therein there was corroboration from other police information, or the affidavit stated that the informant was an 'admitted' participant in the crime, whereas in the instant case there is little corroborating information to insure reliability, and the affidavit does not expressly state that Williams was an admitted participant in the crime. The affidavit herein merely states that investigation disclosed that 'James Williams 18--N., res. 3856 Haverford Avenue took part in the robbery of Randolph Butts.' Thus, there is no direct showing, on the face of the affidavit that Williams, the informant, had actually confessed or made inculpatory statements that would tend to show his reliability.

However, the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Ventresca, supra, 380 U.S. at 108--109, 85 S.Ct. at 746, stated that the affidavit 'must be tested and interpreted by . . . (this Court) in a commonsense and realistic fashion,' and that we 'should not invalidate the warrant by interpreting the affidavit in a hypertechnical, rather than a commonsense manner,' and that 'the resolution of doubtful or marginal cases in this area should be largely determined by the preference to be accorded to warrants.' Based on this guideline, it is our view that a common-sense reading of the affidavit involved is sufficient to establish Williams is reliable since he was a 'known' participant in the crime, and the magistrate could properly presume Williams knew anything he said would or could be used to implicate him in the crime, and he would not be [446 Pa. 72] inclined to give false information about himself, or his uncle, the appellant.

Moreover, his recitation of the manner in which the crime was committed was corroborated by the police investigation, since it was clear that a murder had been committed and it occurred as a result of stab wounds, as the informer stated, leading to the conclusion he had first-hand information.

The appellant's next contention is that the kitchen knife seized and put in evidence as the murder weapon should have been suppressed because of the 'slipshod manner in which Detective Verbrugghe approached his duties when he described the knife he was looking for as a pen knife; whereas he actually confiscated a silver kitchen knife.'

The affidavit stated that the item to be seized was merely a knife, but the warrant limited the description to 'one pocket knife.' According to testimony elicited during the suppression hearing below, when the detectives entered the apartment where appellant was staying, they asked Valerie Williams (an occupant of the apartment) where the 'knife' used in the killing was. She pointed it out in a pan of water under the kitchen table and, as previously noted, the knife was a kitchen knife rather than a 'pocket knife.' Thus it is clear that the knife seized does not exactly match the description given in the warrant.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides:

'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against...

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