Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak T. Goldstein, Esquire recently won the dismissal of all charges in a first-degree murder case by successfully litigating a Motion to Quash (also known as a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus). In the case of Commonwealth v. M.B., the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge dismissed all of the charges against M.B. after Attorney Goldstein moved for dismissal on the grounds that the Commonwealth had failed to present a prima facie case of the client’s participation in a homicide at the preliminary hearing.
In M.B., prosecutors alleged that the defendant, his brother, and their cousin had been at a block party in Southwest Philadelphia. At some point, the defendant became involved in a verbal argument with the decedent. The defendant’s brother and the man began fighting, and the defendant briefly jumped into the fight. Other partygoers broke up the fight, and the defendant, his brother, and their cousin left. The decedent also left the party shortly thereafter and went home.
A few hours later, the defendant, his brother, and their cousin went to the man’s house, which was not far from where the block party had been taking place. Surveillance video showed them entering the block prior to the shooting and leaving shortly thereafter. Witnesses testified at the preliminary hearing that as they approached the house, the brother told the defendant and the cousin to go sit down across the street, which they did. The brother then knocked on the decedent’s door. The decedent opened the door and began cursing at the brother. The brother pulled out a loaded handgun and shot him one time in the torso, killing him. The brother then crossed the street, and the three of them all left. Surveillance footage showed them walking off of the block together.
Investigators eventually recommended homicide charges against M.B. despite the fact that he had not been the shooter and had done nothing more than wait across the street while his brother went over to the house. They declined to charge the cousin. They also obviously charged the shooter, but they had not located him at the time of M.B.’s preliminary hearing.
The Philadelphia Municipal Court conducted a preliminary hearing in the case against M.B. while M.B. was represented by different counsel, and the Court held M.B. for court on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy. Essentially, the Commonwealth argued, and the Court agreed, that M.B. must have conspired with his brother to kill the decedent and told his brother where the decedent lived. Therefore, because conspiracy can potentially result in liability for the underlying substantive criminal offense, the Court held M.B. over for trial on the murder and conspiracy charges. If convicted, M.B. would be facing a mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole.
M.B. retained Attorney Goldstein following the preliminary hearing. Attorney Goldstein promptly obtained the transcript from the preliminary hearing and filed a Motion to Quash. A Motion to Quash asks the Court of Common Pleas judge to review the findings of the Municipal Court judge or magistrate and dismiss the charges because the Commonwealth failed to establish a prima facie case that the defendant actually committed a crime. Here, the defense argued that M.B. had done nothing more than walk with his brother to the decedent’s house. There was no evidence that M.B. knew what his brother was going to do, encouraged his brother to do it, or had actually been the person who provided his brother with the decedent’s address. Further, the Commonwealth had declined to charge the cousin with the shooting. Thus, the evidence showed that it was just as likely as not that the men had gone over to the house to talk to the decedent and resolve the issues from the block party instead of going there to shoot him. Even if the brother planned to shoot the decedent, there was simply no evidence that M.B. had encouraged or facilitated it in any way. Instead, the evidence suggested that the brother may have gotten mad when the decedent opened the door and began cursing at him and acted on his own.
The Common Pleas judge reviewed the transcript, watched the video from the surveillance cameras, and held a hearing for both sides to make argument. The judge agreed with Attorney Goldstein that the evidence showed only that M.B. had been merely present at the scene of a crime. Under Pennsylvania law, it is well-established that mere presence alone is not enough to infer that a person was part of a criminal conspiracy or intended for the crime to occur. Therefore, the judge dismissed all charges against M.B. in this first-degree murder case.
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