Commonwealth v. Sterling, 289

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtMR. JUSTICE KEPHART:
Citation314 Pa. 76,170 A. 258
PartiesCommonwealth v. Sterling, Aplnt., et al
Docket Number289
Decision Date02 January 1934

170 A. 258

314 Pa. 76

Sterling, Aplnt., et al

No. 289

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

January 2, 1934

Argued: November 28, 1933

Appeal, No. 289, Jan. T., 1933, by defendant, Joseph Sterling, from judgment and sentence of O. & T., G.J.D. and Q.S. Philadelphia Co., Jan. Sessions, 1933, No. 1179, in case of Commonwealth v. Robert Harris and Joseph Sterling. Judgment affirmed and record remitted for purpose of execution.

Indictment for murder. Before DAVIS, P.J.

The opinion of the Supreme Court states the facts.

Sentence of death after hearing of evidence. Before DAVIS, P.J., LAMBERTON and BROWN, JJ., without a jury. Defendant appealed.

Error assigned, inter alia, was judgment, quoting record.

Judgment affirmed and record remitted for the purpose of execution.

G. Levering Arnhold, for appellant.

Vincent A. Carroll, Assistant District Attorney, with him Charles F. Kelley, District Attorney, for appellee.


OPINION [170 A. 259]


Joseph Sterling pleaded guilty to the charge of murder. The court below, after hearing the Commonwealth's evidence, fixed the degree of the crime as murder in the first degree and sentenced Sterling to death.

The sole question is whether the penalty fixed by the lower court, when considered in relation to the acts done by defendant, is too severe and disproportionate; should it be mitigated to life imprisonment?

[314 Pa. 78] This court has the power to reverse, modify or affirm the judgment of the trial court, not only by statutory authority, but as an inherent judicial function of an appellate court: Com. v. Garramone, 307 Pa. 507; Beale v. Com., 25 Pa. 11; Daniels v. Com., 7 Pa. 371; Drew v. Com., 1 Whart. 279, 281. See Act of June 16, 1836, P.L. 784, section 1.

The death penalty has been fixed by the legislature in the belief that it not only protects society from the antisocial actions of the particular person condemned and punishes him as well, but that it is, in its imposition in each case, a deterrent to others who may contemplate injury to society. The propriety of this policy is not for our determination. We apply the law enacted by the legislature in the cases as they arise. The alternate penalties of death and life imprisonment are provided, not with the idea that the courts may impose the one or the other arbitrarily or without reason upon a conviction of first-degree murder. Where the heinous offense is lessened because of the mitigating circumstances arising from the emotion or the pressure of events under which the offender has acted, or for other satisfactory cause, and he is customarily of law-abiding nature and habits, the court is justified in fixing the lesser of the two penalties; but it cannot undermine the policy and intention of the legislature by permitting its own feelings to intrude on the wisdom of that...

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35 cases
  • Com. ex rel. Smith v. Myers
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • January 30, 1970
    ...Commonwealth v. Guida, 341 Pa. 305, 19 A.2d 98 (1941); Commonwealth v. Doris, 287 Pa. 547, 135 A. 313 (1926); and Commonwealth v. Sterling, 314 Pa. 76, 170 A. 258 (1934). A [261 A.2d 556] similar factual difference was noted in the cases succeeding Almeida and relied upon by the Commonwealt......
  • State v. Dunn, 17571
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Utah
    • March 18, 1993
    ...judgments through statutes or constitutional provisions. See State v. Braley, 224 Or. 1, 355 P.2d 467, 473 (1960); Commonwealth v. Sterling, 314 Pa. 76, 170 A. 258, 259 (1934). Some courts have inferred a common law power from decisions of federal and other state courts. See, e.g., State v.......
  • State v. Owen
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • January 27, 1953
    ...or accidental, the killing is murder of the first degree. People v. Perry, 14 Ca1.2d 387, 94 P.2d 559, 124 A.L.R. 1123; Commonwealth v. Sterling, 314 Pa. 76, 170 A. 258; Commonwealth v. Almeida, 362 Pa. 596, 68 A.2d 595, 12 A.L.R.2d 183; 26 Am.Jur., Homicide, § 39. Not only is deliberation ......
  • Com. v. Bolish
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 19, 1955
    ...v. Buzard, 365 Pa. 511, 76 A.2d 394, 22 A.L.R.2d 846; Commonwealth v. Dorazio, 365 Pa. 291, 74 A.2d 125; Commonwealth v. Sterling, 314 Pa. 76, 170 A. 258; Commonwealth v. Lessner, 274 Pa. 108, 118 A. 24; Commonwealth v. Exler, 243 Pa. 155, 89 A. 968; Commonwealth v. Drum, 58 Pa. 9; 4 Blacks......
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