Commonwealth v. Miller

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtDREW, Justice.
Citation170 A. 128,313 Pa. 567
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH v. MILLER.
Decision Date15 January 1934
170 A. 128
313 Pa. 567

COMMONWEALTH
v.
MILLER.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Jan. 15, 1934.


Appeal No. 364, January term, 1933, from judgment and sentence of Court of Oyer and Terminer, Philadelphia County; Harry S. McDevitt, President Judge.

John Andrew Miller was convicted of murder in the first degree, and he appeals.

Judgment reversed, and venire facias de novo awarded.

Argued before FRAZER, C. J., and SIMPSON, KEPHART, SCHAFFER, MAXEY, DREW, and LINN, JJ.

Maurice J. Teitelbaum and Allen C. Thomas, Jr., both of Philadelphia, for appellant.

Vincent A. Carroll, Asst. Dist. Atty., and Charles F. Kelley, Dist. Atty., both of Philadelphia, for the Commonwealth.

DREW, Justice.

The defendant, John Andrew Miller, was indicted and tried for the murder of William Shapiro. The jury found him guilty of murder of the first degree, and fixed the penalty at death. From the judgment and sentence entered on the verdict, Miller appeals. There are 89 assignments of error, all but 6 of which charge inadequacy, inaccuracy, and unfairness in the charge of the learned trial judge.

The only assignments of error which need be considered are those which allege that the trial court did not adequately instruct the jury on the law of manslaughter and which complain of the express statement of the learned trial judge in the charge that, although he could not take away from the jury the right to return a verdict of manslaughter, on the facts of the case defendant was guilty of murder or nothing, and a finding of manslaughter would not be supported by the evidence. Defendant's counsel earnestly contend that a verdict of manslaughter could have been reached by the jury on any one of eight possible theories, all of which,

170 A. 129

they claim, had testimony to support them. Of these eight hypotheses, we need consider only the one most strongly pressed—that the evidence was sufficient to support a finding that the killing was done by defendant under the influence of a real, even though unreasonable, fear that his life was in danger. Nothing was said in the charge to the effect that a killing while under the influence of fear for one's life might be manslaughter, and the points offered by the defendant on the subject of manslaughter were refused. While it is well settled that a trial judge is not required to charge the jury on manslaughter where there is nothing in the testimony to reduce the grade of the crime below murder (Com. v. Morrison, 266 Pa. 223, 109 A. 878; Com. v. Lessner, 274 Pa. 108, 118 A. 24; Com. v. Spardute, 278 Pa. 37, 122 A. 161; Com. v. Meleskie, 278 Pa. 383, 123 A. 310; Com. v. Hadok, 313 Pa. 110, 169 A. Ill), it is only in very clear cases, where there is no room for doubt, that this can properly be done (Com. v. Sutton, 205 Pa. 605, 55 A. 781; Com. v. Curcio, 216 Pa. 380, 65 A. 792). It is equally well settled that a killing committed under an apprehension that one's life is in danger is, if the apprehension is reasonable, excusable as done in self-defense (Com. v. Colandro, 231 Pa. 343, 80 A. 571; Com. v. Balanzo, 261 Pa. 507, 104 A. 683; Com. v. Russogulo, 263 Pa. 93, 106 A. 180); if the apprehension exists, but is not reasonable, it is manslaughter only (Com. v. Drum, 58 Pa. 9; Com. v. Colandro, supra; see Com. v. Curcio, supra; Com. v. Principatti, 260 Pa. 587, 104 A. 53). Hence, if there was sufficient evidence for the jury to base a finding of manslaughter on this ground, the defendant was entitled to have the jury so instructed. Com. v. Curcio, supra; Com. v. Colandro, supra.

As to the facts leading up to the night of the killing, there is no conflict in the testimony. In December, 1932, a bank in West Philadelphia was robbed by six bandits, who obtained a large sum of money and succeeded in making their escape. Shapiro, the deceased, knew the men who robbed the bank, and had expected to take part in the robbery, but had been left out of their plans and given no share of the proceeds. As a result, he was angry, and determined to kidnap for ransom one of the gang which had robbed the bank. For the promise of a share of the ransom money he secured the assistance of the defendant, Miller, and of a girl named Helen Taylor. In pursuance of a plan agreed upon by them, the Taylor girl, under an assumed name, rented an apartment. The next evening Shapiro, Miller, and the girl went to a street corner which was frequented by members of the gang, and kidnapped Bennie Berliner, one of the bank robbers. They took him to the apartment, where they securely bound him with ropes. Berliner testified that Shapiro sent Miller and the girl out of the room, and then said to him, "You were in a hold up, and I know it, and I'm going to send a note demanding $10,000 for your return. If your friends think anything of you, they'll pay; if not you're going to get killed. I don't care what happens. I made up my mind, and I am going to go through with it. You are going to get...

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13 practice notes
  • Com. v. McGrogan
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 30, 1972
    ...Commonwealth v. Yeager, 329 Pa. 81, 196 A. 827 (1938); Commonwealth v. Carroll, 326 Pa. 135, 191 A. 610 (1937); Commonwealth v. Miller, 313 Pa. 567, 170 A. 128 2 For the elements of self-defense see Commonwealth v. Walker, 447 Pa. 146, 288 A.2d 741 (1972); Commonwealth v. Roundtree, 440 Pa.......
  • Com. v. Cain
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • January 28, 1977
    ...331 Pa. 145, 155--56, 200 A. 632, 637 (1938); Commonwealth v. Carroll, 326 Pa. 135, 137, 191 A. 610, 611 (1937); Commonwealth v. Miller, 313 Pa. 567, 569, 170 A. 128, 129 (1934); Commonwealth v. Colandro, 231 Pa. 343, 350--53, 80 A. 571, 574--75 (1911); Commonwealth v. Curcio, 216 Pa. 380, ......
  • Com. v. Heckathorn
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 24, 1968
    ...145, 200 A. 632; Commonwealth v. Yeager, 329 Pa. 81, 196 A. 827; Commonwealth v. Carroll, 326 Pa. 135, 191 A. 610; Commonwealth v. Miller, 313 Pa. 567, 569, 170 A. 128; Commonwealth v. Crossmire, 156 Pa. 304, 27 A. 40; Commonwealth v. Buccieri, 153 Pa. 535, 26 A. Thus, the important questio......
  • Com. v. Cain
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • March 14, 1979
    ...Commonwealth v. Jennings, 442 Pa. 18, 274 A.2d 767 (1971); Commonwealth v. Flax, 331 Pa. 145, 200 A. 632 (1938); Commonwealth v. Miller, 313 Pa. 567, 569, 170 A. 128 (1934); Commonwealth v. Principatti, 260 Pa. 587, 104 A. 53 (1918); Commonwealth v. Colandro, 231 Pa. 343, 80 A. 571 (1911). ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
13 cases
  • Com. v. McGrogan
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 30, 1972
    ...Commonwealth v. Yeager, 329 Pa. 81, 196 A. 827 (1938); Commonwealth v. Carroll, 326 Pa. 135, 191 A. 610 (1937); Commonwealth v. Miller, 313 Pa. 567, 170 A. 128 2 For the elements of self-defense see Commonwealth v. Walker, 447 Pa. 146, 288 A.2d 741 (1972); Commonwealth v. Roundtree, 440 Pa.......
  • Com. v. Cain
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • January 28, 1977
    ...331 Pa. 145, 155--56, 200 A. 632, 637 (1938); Commonwealth v. Carroll, 326 Pa. 135, 137, 191 A. 610, 611 (1937); Commonwealth v. Miller, 313 Pa. 567, 569, 170 A. 128, 129 (1934); Commonwealth v. Colandro, 231 Pa. 343, 350--53, 80 A. 571, 574--75 (1911); Commonwealth v. Curcio, 216 Pa. 380, ......
  • Com. v. Heckathorn
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 24, 1968
    ...145, 200 A. 632; Commonwealth v. Yeager, 329 Pa. 81, 196 A. 827; Commonwealth v. Carroll, 326 Pa. 135, 191 A. 610; Commonwealth v. Miller, 313 Pa. 567, 569, 170 A. 128; Commonwealth v. Crossmire, 156 Pa. 304, 27 A. 40; Commonwealth v. Buccieri, 153 Pa. 535, 26 A. Thus, the important questio......
  • Com. v. Cain
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • March 14, 1979
    ...Commonwealth v. Jennings, 442 Pa. 18, 274 A.2d 767 (1971); Commonwealth v. Flax, 331 Pa. 145, 200 A. 632 (1938); Commonwealth v. Miller, 313 Pa. 567, 569, 170 A. 128 (1934); Commonwealth v. Principatti, 260 Pa. 587, 104 A. 53 (1918); Commonwealth v. Colandro, 231 Pa. 343, 80 A. 571 (1911). ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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