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Law School Case Brief

Commonwealth v. Lopinson - 427 Pa. 284, 234 A.2d 552 (1967)


The right of peremptory challenge is not of itself a right to select but a right to reject jurors. The examination of jurors under voir dire is solely for the purpose of securing a competent, fair, impartial and unprejudiced jury. Neither counsel for the defendant nor for the state should be permitted to elicit any information of this nature, or to ask direct or hypothetical questions designed to disclose what a juror's present impression or opinion may be or what his attitude or decision will likely be under certain facts that may be developed in the trial of the case. While considerable latitude should be permitted on a voir dire, the inquiry should be strictly confined to disclosing qualifications or lack of qualifications of a juror and whether a juror has formed a fixed opinion or may be otherwise subject to disqualification for cause. The scope of the voir dire examination rests in the sound discretion of the trial judge and his decisions, even in a challenge for cause, will not be reversed in the absence of palpable error. 


Defendant Jack Lopinson requested that an accomplice kill his wife and his business partner. The accomplice agreed and, after planning with defendant, shot and killed them in defendant's restaurant. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. Defendant appealed his convictions for two counts of first degree murder and the sentences of death imposed in the Court of Oyer and Terminer for Philadelphia County (Pennsylvania). Defendant alleged various errors by the lower court, including the refusal of his motion to quash the indictments, the refusal to grant a continuance based on the lack of an impartial jury, and unfair restrictions on his counsel's cross-examination of an accomplice.


Did the lower court err in refusing to grant a continuance based on the lack of an impartial jury?




The court affirmed defendant's convictions for first degree murder and the sentences of death imposed by the lower court in accordance with the jury verdict, holding that (1) the lack of a preliminary hearing after the inquest and prior to indictment did not void the convictions because the county medical examiner had the power to act as a committing magistrate and thus, upon finding defendant responsible, to commit him without bail; (2) lack of prior notice to defendant of presentment of bills to the grand jury did not violate due process because defendant was given a hearing on his motion to quash, and defendant did not meet his burden of proof; (3) denial of a continuance sought based on an alleged biased jury due to trial publicity was proper because extensive voir dire and challenges were liberally allowed so that the final jury was as unbiased as possible; and (4) the accomplice's cross-examination was not unduly restricted because it was exhaustive in exposing all subjects of direct examination, and any erroneous rulings were harmless.

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