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Price v. State

Decided: November 17, 1961.


Appeal from the Criminal Court of Baltimore; Niles, C. J.

Brune, C. J., and Henderson, Prescott, Marbury and Sybert, JJ. Brune, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court.


The appellant, Price, was convicted in a trial by the court, sitting without a jury, of separate assaults on two Baltimore City police officers and was sentenced to six months' imprisonment. He appeals.

The actual legal issues are narrow, and they are the only issues properly before this Court on this appeal. They are: first, whether the appellant was lawfully arrested or was properly resisting unlawful arrest; second, whether there were such discrepancies in the testimony of the prosecution witnesses that the defendant's motions for directed verdicts on the assault charges should have been granted. (Such a motion was granted as to a third charge, disturbing the peace.)

We shall take up the second of these contentions first.

Our review of the evidence indicates to us that the discrepancies in the testimony, such as the exact sequence of events and the precise place where they occurred, are of relatively slight importance and do not conflict in any material respects with the general statement of facts which we set out below. We therefore hold this contention of the appellant to be untenable. Williams v. State, 223 Md. 339, 340, 164 A.2d 467; Mason v. State, 225 Md. 74, 76, 169 A.2d 445; Dyson v. State, 226 Md. 18, 21, 171 A.2d 505.

We now turn to the first and principal question. The State offered evidence, which, if believed, was sufficient to show the matters set forth below in this paragraph. As a result of a complaint initiated by a tenant in a twelve-apartment residence at 714 Madison Avenue in Baltimore, police headquarters sent out an order at 2:18 A.M. to two officers in a nearby police car to investigate a report that there was a prowler at the above address. Upon receipt of this call these officers, Goetzke and Staniewski, proceeded at once to the place directed, and on arrival were joined by a third officer, Wotjek, a foot patrolman. Goetzke (in the lead) and Wotjek (following) entered a lighted vestibule at No. 714. This vestibule is about five by seven feet and has an outer and an inner door. In the vestibule they found the appellant, Price. As they approached, Price was facing the inner door, on which so called "pry marks" were visible, which Goetzke thought appeared to have been made in an effort to pry the door open. Goetzke asked Price whether he lived there, Price murmured some unintelligible reply and made an immediate rush to get away. Goetzke at once tried to grab him. A struggle ensued in which Price struck, kicked and knocked down each of these officers and succeeded in breaking loose for a moment. Price was caught almost at once by Officers Staniewski and Goetzke and was subdued by the officers with the considerable aid of their night sticks. Price was then put in a police cruising patrol vehicle and was taken to a hospital. Goetzke says that Price again attacked him en route. Goetzke received treatment at another hospital a little later for injuries which he had received.

Price's account of events is quite different. He claims that

the police inquiry as to whether he lived at 714 Madison Avenue was made in an offensive manner, that he answered "No," and that the officers forthwith started to beat him over the head with their night sticks. He also claims that the violence at the time of arrival at the hospital was entirely on the part of the police, who, he says, threw him out of the police patrol and walked on him. As to the last episode he is corroborated by the testimony of a nurse at the hospital, who, however, could scarcely have been in a position to see what preceded his being thrown out of the patrol cruiser, if he was in fact thrown out.

At the trial, but certainly not during the brief moment preceding or during the struggle at 714 Madison Avenue, Price claimed that he had entered the vestibule only to get warm preparatory to continuing on his way home on a cold and snowy night. He said that he had taken a cab somewhere on Poplar Grove Street, which is in the western part of Baltimore, to go to his home in the Mt. Winans area, which is in the southern or southwestern part of the City. The trial judge noted that 714 Madison Avenue was far off a direct route between these two points and evidently did not believe the appellant's explanation of how he happened to be at the Madison Avenue address.

As the foregoing recital indicates, some of the facts are undisputed; as to others there is a sharp conflict of testimony. We think, as did the trial judge, that "[t]he vital question is what happened at 714 Madison Avenue." As to the conflicts, he believed the police officers' account of what happened there, taking note of the minor discrepancies above referred to. We find no error -- much less any clear error -- in his doing so; and, therefore, his findings based upon the evidence as to what occurred are not to be set aside by us. Maryland Rule 741 c; Hicks v. State, 225 Md. 560, 561, 171 A.2d 722; Reed v. State, 225 Md. 566, 573, 171 A.2d 464; Dyson ...

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