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Commonwealth v. Holden

    Brief Fact Summary. The defendant, Charles Holden (the “defendant”), was convicted of first degree murder of Cora Smith (“Ms. Smith”). Ms. Smith was killed in her home after being struck in the head. The police arrested the defendant and took him to the house of his supposed alibi, Ralph Jones (“Mr. Jones”), and questioned Mr. Jones in the defendant’s presence.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A witness is not allowed to speculate as to what another was thinking.

    Facts. The defendant was prosecuted and convicted for first degree murder. Ms. Smith, the victim, was killed in her home on December 31, 1955, after being struck in the head. The defendant claimed he was not in the victim’s home at the time of the incident and was innocent. When police arrested the defendant, they took him to the home of Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones was with the defendant several hours before the killing. Mr. Jones was questioned by police with the defendant present. During trial, the State asked Mr. Jones whether the defendant did anything unusual during the questioning. Mr. Jones replied that the defendant winked, but he did not know if he winked or had something in his eye. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the conviction in finding the evidence sufficient. The majority opinion is not part of the text, only the dissenting opinion of Justice Musmanno as discussed below.

    Issue. Was the evidence sufficient to affirm the conviction?

    Held. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania found the evidence sufficient and affirmed the conviction.

    Dissent. Justice Musmanno issued a dissenting opinion arguing that the prosecuting attorney’s questioning witness Mr. Jones on what the defendant meant by the wink was a violation of the rules of evidence. The jury was allowed to hear over objection that the witness Mr. Jones believed the wink meant the defendant wanted Mr. Jones to make up an alibi.

    Discussion. All the defendant did was wink. The trial court allowed the jury to believe the wink was a signal to Mr. Jones to help him cover up his actions. The dissent points out that the majority opinion did not address the issue of the “wink” at all.


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