Gaskins, In re

Decision Date24 April 1968
Citation244 A.2d 662,430 Pa. 298
PartiesIn the Matter of Dwight GASKINS. Appeal of COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Alan J. Davis, Asst. Dist. Atty., Chief, Appeals Div., Philadelphia, James D. Crawford, Asst. Dist. Atty., Richard A. Sprague, First Asst. Dist. Atty., Arlen Specter, Dist. Atty., for appellant.

Mary Bell Hammerman, Bernard L. Segal, Needleman, Needleman, Segal & Tabb, Philadelphia, for appellee.

William T. Coleman, Jr., Robert W. Maris, Philadelphia, for the County Court, amicus curiae, Dilworth, Paxson, Kalish, Kohn & Levy, Philadelphia, of counsel.



BELL, Chief Justice.

The defendant, Dwight Gaskins, 14 years of age, lived permanently with his grandmother. Douglas Minnay, aged 15, had been invited by Gaskins to live temporarily with him in his grandmother's home. During the evening of May 18, 1966, an argument concerning a watch developed between the two boys. According to the testimony of witnesses, Minnay had been pushing Gaskins in front of his grandmother's home. Gaskins then went inside, picked up a knife which he placed in his pocket, and told his grandmother that Minnay was bothering him. Gaskins's grandmother came outside and told Minnay to leave Dwight alone. While Dwight was standing on the porch, after his grandmother had gone inside her house, Minnay ran up the steps and pushed him. Gaskins then jumped down the steps, took the knife from his pocket, and fatally stabbed Minnay in the chest.

Later that same evening, Gaskins was arrested and charged with homicide by stabbing. The next morning, he appeared before Judge Charles WRIGHT in the Juvenile Court Division of the County Court for a hearing on a petition alleging that he was a 'delinquent' child. The petition, signed by one of the investigating officers, averred: 'That the said Dwight Gaskins was brought to the Youth Study Center * * * charged with Homicide, by Stabbing. Deceased: Douglas Minnay * * *.' The proceedings were continued, in order to enable Gaskins to obtain counsel, and the Assistant District Attorney, when asked whether the Commonwealth would request certification of the case, answered, 'I have not discussed it with anyone. I would feel maybe no.'

On May 27, 1966, a further hearing was held, at which time a different Assistant District Attorney appeared and requested that Judge WRIGHT sit as a committing magistrate for the purpose of certifying the case for prosecution as a criminal matter. Gaskins's attorney also requested certification and, upon the refusal of Judge WRIGHT to certify the case, Gaskins's attorney took an exception to this ruling. After hearing testimony from an investigating officer and from several eye witnesses, the case was continued until June 9, 1966, at which time further testimony was to be taken.

When proceedings were resumed on June 9, 1966, a third representative of the District Attorney's office appeared and reiterated the request that the case be certified for prosecution as a criminal case. 1 This request and motion was denied.

Two witnesses were then presented on behalf of Dwight Gaskins, and the boy himself also testified with respect to several aspects of the Minnay killing. After hearing the testimony, Judge WRIGHT adjudicated Dwight Gaskins a delinquent, committing him to Glen Mills School until he reached 16 years of age, and then to the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill until he becomes 21. Thereafter, the Commonwealth filed this appeal from the refusal of Judge WRIGHT to certify the case for prosecution in the criminal courts. A motion to quash the Commonwealth's appeal was filed by the attorney for Gaskins. A brief was filed by the County Court of Philadelphia as amicus curiae, urging the affirmance of Judge WRIGHT's Order.

Motion to Quash Appeal

In his motion to quash the appeal, Dwight Gaskins raises two principal arguments: (1) that the Commonwealth may not appeal from the action and order of a County Court Judge in a criminal case when he is sitting in the Juvenile division, and (2) that assuming such an appeal would be proper, the Superior Court, rather than the Supreme Court, is the Court of proper jurisdiction. We disagree with both of these contentions.

We shall first consider whether the Supreme Court or the Superior Court had jurisdiction over the Commonwealth's appeal from Judge WRIGHT's refusal to sit as a committing magistrate and hold Gaskins for the grand jury and certify the case to the Court of Oyer and Terminer for trial. The basis of the Commonwealth's appeal to this Court is that it had produced sufficient evidence before Judge WRIGHT, sitting either as a County Court Judge or as a committing magistrate, 2 to establish a prima facie case of murder, and therefore Judge WRIGHT had both the power and the duty to hold Gaskins for the grand jury.

This Court has jurisdiction over this appeal. The Act of June 24, 1895, P.L. 212, § 7.4, as amended by the Act of August 14, 1963, P.L. 819, 17 P.S. § 191.4, pertinently provides in Section 7.4:

'In the following Classes of cases, the Superior Court shall have No jurisdiction thereof, but the appeal from the judgment, order or decree of the lower court shall be taken directly to the Supreme Court: (1) Felonious homicide; (emphasis supplied) * * *.'

When subsection 2(1) of this amendatory Act of August 14, 1963 is contrasted with other subsections of the same Act, it is clear that subsection 2(1) was intended to deal with the order of Any Court below, or magistrate or justice of the peace, involving felonious homicide. If the Legislature had intended to limit and restrict the coverage of subsection 2(1) to appeals from orders of specified lower Courts, it would have specifically or clearly said so. In contrast to subsection 2(1), supra, subsection 2(3) is limited by its language to petitions, orders and decrees of the 'Orphans' Court,' and subsection 2(7) is limited by its language to appeals from orders of the 'courts of common pleas and courts of quarter sessions of the peace.'

Thus, since this appeal involves the question or issue of a felonious homicide, this Court has jurisdiction over the Commonwealth's appeal. 3 This is so even though the issue arose in a delinquency hearing in the Juvenile Court, from which appeals are ordinarily taken to the Superior Court.

Although, as a general rule, the Commonwealth is not entitled to appeal in criminal cases, this Court has repeatedly ruled that the Commonwealth may appeal from adverse rulings on pure questions of law. Commonwealth v. Jefferson, 423 Pa. 541, 226 A.2d 765; Commonwealth v. Tabb, 417 Pa. 13, 207 A.2d 884; Commonwealth v. Bosurgi, 411 Pa. 56, 190 A.2d 304; Commonwealth v. Melton, 406 Pa. 343, 178 A.2d 728; Commonwealth v. Melton, 402 Pa. 628, 168 A.2d 328; Commonwealth v. Hartman, 383 Pa. 461, 119 A.2d 211; Commonwealth v. Simpson, 310 Pa. 380, 165 A. 498.

Furthermore, this Court has recently held that the Commonwealth may appeal from pre-trial rulings on matters of law where the practical effect of such a ruling is to terminate the prosecution. Commonwealth v. Bosurgi, 411 Pa. 56, 190 A.2d 304, supra. In this case, we are dealing with a pure question of law, and hence we agree with the Commonwealth that it is entitled to appeal in this case.

Gaskins also challenges the validity of this appeal on the ground that the Commonwealth should have sought a writ of prohibition to prevent the Juvenile Court from making an adjudication on a petition for delinquency. This challenge is based on Gaskins's contention that the Commonwealth, by permitting the Juvenile Court proceedings to continue--which parenthetically it did not agree to--, has 'permanently and irretrievably' prejudiced Gaskins's position, because he was led into giving clearly self-incriminatory testimony before Judge WRIGHT. For this reason, Gaskins then concludes that the case cannot now be certified to the grand jury for possible trial in Criminal Court. There is no merit in this contention.

In the event that the Commonwealth is successful in bringing Gaskins to trial for murder, Gaskins's rights are specifically protected by Section 19 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1933, P.L. 1433, 11 P.S. § 261, which specifically provides that the evidence given by Gaskins and other witnesses at the Juvenile Court hearings will not be admissible in any future criminal trial in the Court of Oyer and Terminer or Quarter Sessions Court.

In Commonwealth ex rel. Hendrickson v. Myers, 393 Pa. 224, page 227, 144 A.2d 367, page 369, the Court said:

'Generally speaking, there are several cogent reasons why juvenile records and evidence given in juvenile proceedings should not be used as evidence against a child in any case or proceeding in any other Court. Juvenile Court proceedings are normally informal, and many of the important constitutional and statutory guarantees afforded a defendant in a criminal trial do not apply to a juvenile in a hearing before a Juvenile Court. Holmes' Appeal, 379 Pa. 599, 109 A.2d 523. For these reasons, it would be unjust and illegal to allow the introduction of juvenile records or evidence given in juvenile cases to be later introduced as competent evidence in criminal cases or proceedings in any other Court, in the same manner as criminal convictions or evidence taken in criminal proceedings may in certain instances be competent evidence in other criminal proceedings.'

In Commonwealth v. Johnson, 402 Pa. 479, page 481, 167 A.2d 511, page 512, the Court said:

'* * * The juvenile court record was inadmissible under Holmes' Appeal, 1954, 379 Pa. 599, 109 A.2d 523, where we pointed out that the Juvenile Court is not a criminal court; under Commonwealth ex rel. Hendrickson v. Myers, 1958, 393 Pa. 224, 144 A.2d 367, where we referred to the informality and difference in procedure of...

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