Commonwealth v. Wickett

Decision Date22 May 1902
Docket Number20-1903
Citation20 Pa.Super. 350
PartiesCommonwealth v. Wickett, Appellant
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court

Argued April 14, 1902 [Syllabus Matter]

Appeal by defendant, from judgment of Q. S. Bradford Co.-1900, No 25, on verdict of guilty in case of Commonwealth v. A. L Wickert.

Indictment for forging a promissory note. Before Fanning, P. J.

From the record it appeared that the defendant was indicted for forging the name of David G. Boyer to a promissory note. Boyer was called by the commonwealth and testified that he had signed the note. When M. J. Murphy was on the stand, the following question was asked:

" Q. Were you present in my office in February last when the question was asked Mr. Boyer if he wrote that name to that note?

A. I was.

Q. What did he say?

A. He said he did not.

Q. Did you hear me ask him at that time whether or not he authorized any one to sign his name, and what did he say?

A. He replied that he did not, in that case.

Q. When did he say, at any time in conversation with you, that he first saw or knew of that note?

A. When he first saw or knew of it?

Q. Yes, sir.

A. Well, it was first -- I think it was in January I was in Philadelphia and subpoenaed him for February court; that was the first time I had ever seen him, and he said at that time he was very much surprised that Mr. Wickert would do it."

Mr. Mercur: Counsel for defendant now move the court to strike out all the testimony of the witness relative to the alleged declarations and statements made to him by . . . . David G. Boyer, on the ground that they are incompetent to affect the defendant in this case, and that they are irrelevant, immaterial and hearsay.

Mr. Maxwell: We object, that the same is competent and material and relevant for the purpose offered.

The Court: We refuse to strike out the testimony. Bill sealed.

F. H. Sherman was asked this question:

" Q. What if anything did he (Boyer) say to you about the other note; about Mr. Brewer, or about seeing Mr. Brewer?"

Objected to.

Mr. Maxwell: This is for the purpose of contradicting and affecting his credibility.

Mr. Mercur: We object to it, as incompetent, irrelevant and hearsay.

Mr. Maxwell:"

Q. Did Mr. Brewer (Boyer) say to you in that conversation while there that you had better arrest Wickert before you saw Brewer, as Brewer was a son of a bitch, and a great friend of the defendants, and he would notify Wickert, if you saw him first, and he would get away?"

Mr. Mercur: We object to the question as leading, incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial to the issue in this case, and as being hearsay, and an attempt to contradict their own witness

Objection overruled. Defendant excepts. Bill sealed for defendant.

Mr. Maxwell:"

Q. Answer the question.

A. I went there --

Q. Just answer the question.

A. He did say words to that effect."

M. J. Murphy was asked this question:

" Q. Were you in my office yesterday when I was talking with Mr. Boyer in relation to this note and his signature?

A. I was.

Q. What did he say as to whether the signature to that note, 'Exhibit 29,' was in his handwriting or not?"

Mr. Mercur: What is the purpose of that?

Mr. Maxwell: This is for the purpose of affecting the credibility of Mr. Boyer as a witness.

Mr. Mercur: We object to it, as incompetent, irrelevant and inadmissible.

Objection overruled. Defendant excepts. Bill sealed for defendant.

Mr. Maxwell:"

Q. What is your answer to that?

A. He said, and repeated several times that it was not in his handwriting; that that signature was not in his handwriting; that was his language."

Clause L. Coon, a witness called on behalf of the commonwealth, was asked these questions:

" Q. Were you in my office yesterday when Mr. Maynard and I were talking with this man, David G. Boyer?

A. I was.

Q. Did you hear some of the conversation?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Did you hear the question asked Mr. Boyer whether or not the signature to a certain note was in his handwriting or not?

A. I did.

Q. The note in dispute?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. What was the answer to it?"

Objected to.

Mr. Maxwell: This offer is for the purpose of affecting the credibility of the witness, David G. Boyer.

Mr. Mercur: We object to it, as incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial.

Objection overruled. Defendant excepts. Bill sealed for defendant.

Mr. Maxwell:"

Q. What was his answer to it. A. He said it was not his handwriting."

Verdict of guilty upon which judgment of sentence was passed.

Errors assigned were rulings on evidence, quoting the bill of exceptions. In overruling a motion in arrest of judgment.

Rodney A. Mercur, with him J. T. Corbin, for appellant. -- The evidence offered to contradict Boyer was inadmissible: Stearns v. Merchants' Bank, 53 Pa. 492; Stockton v. Demuth, 7 Watts, 39; Southwark Ins. Co. v. Knight, 6 Wharton, 330; McDermott v. Hoffman, 70 Pa. 52; Penna. R. R. Co. v. Fortney, 90 Pa. 328; Fisher v. Hart, 149 Pa. 232; Gantt v. Cox & Sons Co., 199 Pa. 208; Gray v. Hartman, 6 Pa.Super. 195; Eastern Lumber Co. v. Gill, 9 Pa. C. C. Rep. 630; Dickson's Est., 20 Pa. C. C. Rep. 152.

L. T. Hoyt, with him H. F. Maynard and William Maxwell, for appellee. -- The commonwealth was entitled to contradict Boyer: Fisher v. Hart, 149 Pa. 232; Cowden v. Reynolds, 12 S. & R. 281; Com. v. Lamberton, 2 Brewster, 565; Bank of the Northern Liberties v. Davis, 6 W. & S. 285; McNerney v. Reading, 150 Pa. 611; DeLisle v. Priestman, 1 Browne, 176; Harden v. Hays, 9 Pa. 151; McKee v. Jones, 6 Pa. 425; Sharp v. Emmett, 5 W. H. 288; Kay v. Fredrigal, 3 Pa. 221; Smith v. Price, 8 Watts, 477; Craig v. Craig, 5 Rawle, 91; Gray v. Hartman, 6 Pa.Super. 195; Com. v. Marrow, 3 Brewster, 402; Gantt v. Cox & Sons Co., 199 Pa. 208; Smith v. Briscoe, 65 Md. 561; Elmer v. Fessenden, 154 Mass. 427; George v. Triplett, 5 N.D. 50; 63 N.W. 891.

Before Rice, P. J., Beaver, Orlady, W. W. Porter and W. D. Porter, JJ.

OPINION

RICE, J.

The defendant was charged with the forgery of a promissory note purporting to have been signed by one Boyer. On the trial of the case Boyer was called as a witness by the commonwealth and testified that the note was signed by him. He admitted, however, that when first asked regarding the note, he asserted that the signature was not his, and that he had not given the note, but upon cross-examination claimed that he had subsequently notified the prosecutor by telegram and by letter that he was mistaken in his first declaration denying the execution of the note. The commonwealth then offered and was permitted to contradict the witness by proof of his statements made to the commonwealth's attorney on the eve of the trial, to the effect that he had not signed the note. It is to be observed that this was after the sending of the letter and telegram above referred to. The question raised by the several assignments of error is as to the competency of this testimony.

The rule that a party calling a witness is not permitted to ask leading questions and is bound by his testimony, is liberally construed in modern practice (Gantt v. Cox, 199 Pa 208), and while it is still the general rule that it is not competent for a party to prove that a witness whom he has called and whose testimony is unfavorable to his cause had previously stated the facts in a different manner, yet, exceptions to this general rule must be permitted to prevent a failure of justice, and accordingly such exceptions have been recognized in the adjudicated cases in Pennsylvania. In Cowden v. Reynolds, 12 S. & R. 281, Chief Justice Tilghman said, " and hard indeed, would be the case of one who calls a witness, expecting that he would swear the truth, if, upon finding himself deceived, he may not show that the witness had told a different story at another time." So in Bank of the Northern Liberties v. Davis, 6 W. & S. 285, Rogers, J., said: " That the court which tries the cause, should have the power to depart from the ordinary rule in certain cases, is absolutely necessary to prevent a failure of justice; for frequently a party may be compelled to call a witness known to be in the interest of the adverse party, or he may, by artifice and fraud, be entrapped into his examination. As for example, a witness tenders himself ready to prove a fact pertinent to the issue, and when placed on the stand proves directly the reverse, or prevaricates in such a manner as to give the whole advantage to the antagonist party, and this perhaps in concert and by the procurement of the adverse party. In such cases, and others of similar kind, the court before whom the cause is tried has always, in the exercise of a sound discretion, allowed the party calling him to prove that at different times and in the presence of other persons, he has held different language. This, however, is not substantive evidence of itself, but is permitted to neutralize the evidence given by the witness." These and many other cases to the same effect are cited and reviewed in the concurring opinion filed by Mr. Justice Thompson in Stearns v. Merchants' Bank, 53 Pa. 490. It is urged, however, that under the rule adopted by the majority of the court in that case, the evidence under consideration in the present case should have been excluded. In this construction of the decision we cannot concur. There the evidence was...

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4 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Spardute
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • June 23, 1923
    ... ... Chas ... M. Culver, with him A. C. Fanning, for appellant. -- The ... Commonwealth should not have been permitted to discredit its ... own witness: McNerney v. Reading City, 150 Pa. 611; ... Smith v. Price, 8 Watts 447; Stearns v ... Merchants Bank, 53 Pa. 490; Com. v. Wickett, 20 ... Pa.Super. 350; Peoples Nat. Bank v. Hazard, 231 Pa. 552 ... The ... admission of the confession was improper: Com. v ... Harman, 4 Pa. 269; Com. v. Zorambo, 205 Pa ... 109; Rizzolo v. Com., 126 Pa. 54 ... Taking ... from the jury the right to consider or render ... ...
  • Commonwealth v. Turner
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • June 6, 1957
    ...who had denounced the stratagem by declaring that "'This was a very ingenious device, but it must not succeed.'" In Commonwealth v. Wickett, 20 Pa.Super. 350, 355, President Judge RICE interpreted Smith v. supra, to mean that "The device of calling a witness whom the party is not compelled ......
  • Commonwealth v. Delfino
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • January 7, 1918
    ...-- The district attorney is entitled to ask leading questions if the Commonwealth's witnesses should appear to be adverse: Commonwealth v. Wickett, 20 Pa.Super. 350; Gantt Cox & Sons Co., 199 Pa. 208. Evidence that defendant withdrew his entire bank deposits on the day of the shooting is ad......
  • Rosenthal's Estate
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
    • December 15, 1939
    ... ... judge: Smith v. Price, 8 Watts 447; nor could it be ... submitted to a jury as substantive evidence: Commonwealth ... v. Wickett, 20 Pa.Super 350, 354; Smith v. Price, supra ... Had he admitted at the hearing that his earlier testimony was ... correct ... ...

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