Commonwealth v. Trunk

Decision Date20 March 1933
Docket Number375,370,376,368,367,371,366,365,369,374,373,372
Citation311 Pa. 555,167 A. 333
PartiesCommonwealth v. Trunk et al., Appellants
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Argued December 1, 1932

Appeals, Nos. 365-376, Jan. T., 1932, by defendants, from judgments of Superior Ct., Oct. T., 1932, Nos. 129-140 affirming judgments and qaushing appeals, from orders suspending sentence on other bills of indictment, of Q.S Montgomery Co., Oct. T., 1932, Bills Nos. 164-1 to 164-9, in case of Commonwealth v. Joseph Trunk, Ralph J. Rinalducci and Brooks Cassidy. Reversed. Orders quashing certain of appeals set aside and records remitted to court below with directions to grant new trial on all indictments.

Indictments charging conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and battery, assault and battery, conspiracy to falsely imprison and false imprisonment. Before WILLIAMS, P.J.

The opinion of the Supreme Court states the facts.

Verdicts of guilty on all eight bills. Sentences on Bills, Nos. 164-7 to 164-9, and suspended sentences on other bills. Defendants appealed to Superior Court. Judgments of sentences affirmed by Superior Court and appeals from orders suspending sentence quashed. Defendants appealed.

Error assigned, inter alia, was judgment of Superior Court, quoting record.

The judgments of the Superior Court are reversed, its orders quashing certain of the appeals are set aside, and the records are remitted to the court below with directions to grant a new trial on all the indictments.

Theodore Lane Bean, with him Edward F. Kane and Adrian Bonnelly, for appellant. -- While the proceedings in this court are denominated as "appeals," they are in reality common law certioraris; and, both at common law and under the statutes of Pennsylvania, a certiorari from the Supreme Court will lie to review the record of the proceedings of an inferior court, though an appeal would not lie, -- particularly in proceedings such as the instant cases: Com. v. Balph, 111 Pa. 365; Murray's Petition, 262 Pa. 188; Lenox v. McCall, 3 S. & R. 95.

This court, in the exercise of its general supervisory power over courts of inferior jurisdiction, has full power to determine whether it was an abuse of discretion in the court below to suspend sentence on certain of the bills: Com. v. Jones, 303 Pa. 551; Com. v. Simpson, 2 Grant 438.

In the absence of statutory authority, which does not exist in cases such as the instant cases, the right to defer indefinitely the suspension of sentence is at least doubtful: Com. v. Meleskie, 278 Pa. 385.

An appeal from the action of the court below, other than a final judgment, will be entertained, when justice requires that the appeal be heard: Frey's Est., 237 Pa. 269; Lawver v. Anderson, 72 Pa.Super. 337.

This court has full power to direct a new trial of a criminal case whenever the ends of justice require it: Com. v. Jones, 303 Pa. 551.

Whether errors were prejudicial is to be determined, not by considering merely their effect on the verdict upon any particular indictment, but also the possible effect they may have had in inducing the other verdicts.

Herman J. Goldberg, with him Dennis A. O'Neill, for appellee. -- Where the sentence has been suspended, there exists no right of appeal: Marsh v. Com., 16 S. & R. 318.

The mere fact that several bills of indictment were tried together does not alter or modify this principle of law: Com. v. Thompson, 79 Pa.Super. 467; Com. v. Gittleson, 88 Pa.Super. 190; Com. v. Mellon, 81 Pa.Super. 20; Com. v. Cauffiel, 97 Pa.Super. 202; Com. v. Lipschutz, 89 Pa.Super. 142.

There is no doubt of the right of the court to suspend sentence. It cannot be urged that such suspension is indefinite: Com. v. Morgan, 278 Pa. 395; Com. v. Carelli, 90 Pa.Super. 416.




Ralph J. Rinalducci was assistant district attorney of Montgomery County, Joseph Trunk was one of the county detectives, and Brooks Cassidy was chief of police of Upper Dublin Township in that county. William Thomas Campbell, a Negro, prosecuted them charging that they had committed upon him an aggravated assault and battery and had falsely imprisoned him. The three were tried simultaneously upon eight bills of indictment, one charging them jointly with conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and battery, three charging them individually with aggravated assault and battery, one charging them with conspiracy to falsely imprison and the other three charging them individually with false imprisonment. In a trial lasting for more than a week the defendants were found guilty on all eight bills. Motions for a new trial were overruled and the judge sentenced them on the indictments charging aggravated assault and battery as follows: Rinalducci to solitary confinement in the eastern penitentiary at hard labor for a maximum term of three years and a minimum period of one year and six months; Trunk in the same way except that his minimum term was fixed at one year; Cassidy to imprisonment in the county jail for six months. On all the other indictments, sentences were suspended. The defendants appealed to the Superior Court, which affirmed the judgments of sentence of the trial court on the aggravated assault and battery bills and quashed the appeals on the other indictments on the ground that they were prematurely taken, no judgment of sentence having been entered thereon. From the action of the Superior Court, we allowed the pending appeals covering all the indictments.

We shall outline the events which culminated in the conviction of the defendants: A house in Upper Dublin Township was dynamited about two o'clock in the morning of May 8, 1931. The house was occupied by E. K. Jones and Eliza Williams, Negroes. Jones was so seriously injured that for a time it was believed he would not survive. Cassidy, chief of police of the township, started an investigation and called to his assistance Trunk, one of the county detectives. They ascertained that Campbell was on unfriendly terms with Jones and the Williams woman. Pursuing their investigation they concluded that Campbell was the perpetrator of the explosion, started to look for him and on Saturday, May 9th, found him walking along a public highway. They directed him to get in the automobile with them, intending to hold him in custody on the charge of dynamiting the house and took him to the office of Squire Crane, Justice of the Peace of Upper Dublin Township, for the purpose of lodging a complaint against him. The squire was not at his office and as Upper Dublin Township has no jail or lockup, they took their prisoner to the police station in Cheltenham Township and placed him in the township lockup, where they detained him until Wednesday, May 13th. On that day they filed an information against Campbell before Squire Crane, charging him with arson, and he was committed to the Montgomery County Prison at Norristown.

During the evening of Thursday, May 14th, Cassidy arranged with Trunk to get Campbell out of jail the next morning for the purpose of taking him to the district attorney's office and questioning him about the crime with which he was charged. Before leaving for Norristown on the morning of May 15th, Cassidy obtained from Squire Crane a discharge for Campbell. Upon his arrival at the district attorney's office Cassidy was told by Trunk that he had arranged with Rinalducci to question Campbell. Before this time Rinalducci had no knowledge of the proceeding which had been instituted against Campbell or of the occurrences giving rise to the prosecution. Rinalducci was engaged in court when Cassidy arrived at his office and the latter went out for the purpose of getting breakfast. During his absence Trunk, not knowing that Cassidy had a discharge of Campbell from Squire Crane, procured a letter from Renninger, the district attorney, addressed to the warden of the prison asking him to release Campbell in the custody of himself and Cassidy for questioning in the district attorney's office. Armed with this letter Trunk went to the prison, had Campbell released in his custody and took him to the district attorney's office, where Rinalducci and Cassidy shortly thereafter appeared. Cassidy stated that he had a discharge for Campbell, but was advised by Rinalducci not to lodge it at the prison until they had finished questioning him.

The district attorney's office being crowded, it was decided that Campbell should be questioned at the barracks of the state police at Jeffersonville some ten or fifteen minutes driving distance away. About noon the three defendants and Campbell drove to the police barracks. It was testified by the three defendants and by other witnesses that as Campbell was entering the barracks, he tripped and fell on the concrete steps and injured his leg. This Campbell denied. He also denied that Rinalducci applied an antiseptic to the abrasion on his leg, as the defendants and the others present testified he did. When the defendants and Campbell entered the barracks, the state policemen stationed there were arranging for luncheon. They invited the defendants to eat with them, which they did, and all who were present testified that Campbell was provided with food. This he also denied.

The sergeant of the state police in charge of the barracks suggested that the defendants take Campbell to the third story of the house (it had formerly been a private dwelling) for the purpose of questioning him, since the examination could not be well conducted on the first floor on account of the presence of other persons, and the second floor contained the bedrooms of the state police and they did not want their beds and rooms soiled by Campbell, whose...

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    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • February 26, 1943
    ...not inflexible and will yield in exceptional cases to safeguard basic human rights. Com. v. Ragone, 317 Pa. 113, 176 A. 454; Com. v. Trunk, 311 Pa. 555, 167 A. 333; Com. Haines, 130 Pa.Super. 196, 196 A. 621. But there is nothing in the present cases bringing them within an exception to the......

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