Sex Crimes

Not Guilty: Attorney Goldstein Wins Full Acquittal in Rape Jury Trial

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Zak T. Goldstein, Esquire recently won a full acquittal from a Philadelphia jury on Rape charges in the case of Commonwealth v. J.B..

In this case, the complainant alleged that her mother's boyfriend, J.B., had been regularly beating her with a belt and sexually assaulting her. She claimed that these incidents would usually happen when she got in trouble at school or otherwise failed to follow the rules in the home. She also claimed that this would often happen when her mother or siblings were home, but no one saw anything or did anything about it. Based on her complaint, Philadelphia Police arrested J.B. and charged him with Rape, Unlawful Contact with a Minor, and Indecent Assault.

Knowing that these cases are extremely difficult to defend and win at trial, J.B. retained Attorney Goldstein for trial. Upon reviewing the discovery for the case, Attorney Goldstein quickly saw that there were major problems with the complainant's story, and Attorney Goldstein was able to show those problems to the Philadelphia jury.

First, the complainant had made similar allegations to her sister and mother prior to going to the police but then admitted to them that she had made the story up because she was afraid of getting in trouble for receiving a bad report card at school.

Second, although she claimed that J.B. had beaten her with a belt and sexually assaulted her two days before she went to the police, not a single investigator had seen her with any kind of bruising or injuries. The police officers who investigated, the DHS worker who was assigned to her case, and the medical professionals who examined her at the hospital all failed to note any injuries or bruising of any kind.

Third, there were major inconsistencies in her story that Attorney Goldstein was able to highlight on cross-examination.

Finally, she claimed that this had all happened in broad daylight in front of numerous family members, but none of the family members had seen anything or corroborated her story, and the Commonwealth had also not obtained any physical or forensic evidence linking J.B. to any kind of assault in any way.

Attorney Goldstein successfully cross-examined the complainant on these major holes in her story and highlighted the lack of any other corroborating evidence for the jury. Faced with the problems in the testimony and the lack of physical evidence, the jury quickly acquitted J.B. of all charges.

These types of cases are extremely difficult to defend and win in today's climate. Jurors are under a significant amount of pressure to believe the alleged victim in a sexual assault case even in the absence of any corroborating evidence. Therefore, if you or a loved one are facing criminal charges for alleged sexual misconduct, it is extremely important that you retain counsel with the skill and experience necessary to properly defend you in court and protect the presumption of innocence.

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers

If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have successfully obtained full acquittals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, DUI, PWID, Rape, and Murder. We have also won new trials on appeal and in Post-Conviction Relief Act litigation for clients who were wrongfully convicted or who received the ineffective assistance of counsel. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.

Attorney Goldstein Wins New Trial In Sexual Assault Case On Appeal of PCRA Petition

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak T. Goldstein, Esquire recently won a new trial for a client who had been convicted of rape and related charges for allegedly molesting his step-daughter.

In Commonwealth v. R.S., the defendant had been charged with rape of a child and related charges for allegedly sexually assaulting his step-daughter. The client was represented by a different attorney at trial, and at trial, the complainant testified to the details of the alleged abuse. The Commonwealth also called a number of witnesses to testify to the complainant’s disclosure of the allegations as well as the investigating detective.

In response, the defendant’s attorney called his then-wife to testify that she did not believe the allegations and had never seen anything suspicious. He also called the defendant to testify, and the defendant adamantly denied the allegations. The Commonwealth introduced no physical or forensic evidence to corroborate the allegations, and there were no other witnesses who had ever seen anything even remotely inappropriate. Nonetheless, the jury convicted R.S. of the charges based solely on the testimony of the complainant. R.S. was sentenced to 40 years’ incarceration, and his direct appeals were denied.

The Post-Conviction Relief Act Petition

After the Superior Court denied the direct appeal, R.S. retained Attorney Goldstein to file a Post-Conviction Relief Act Petition. Attorney Goldstein reviewed the transcripts and immediately noticed that the trial attorney had made a number of critical errors during the course of the trial. Most importantly, the trial attorney had failed to call character witnesses on R.S.’s behalf.

In Pennsylvania, character evidence is extremely important and may be the basis for reasonable doubt on its own. A defendant who has no prior criminal convictions may call witnesses to testify on his or her behalf and to tell a judge or jury that the defendant has an excellent reputation in the community for being a peaceful, non-violent person. A defendant who produces that type of testimony is then entitled to a special jury instruction which informs the jury that the character testimony, if believed, may provide the basis for reasonable doubt even if the jury otherwise believed the allegations.

Here, R.S. had no prior convictions, but his defense attorney failed to introduce any character evidence at trial. Therefore, one of the main claims in the PCRA Petition was that the defense attorney provided the ineffective assistance of counsel by neglecting to call character witnesses on R.S.’s behalf and thereby failing to obtain this critical jury instruction. The trial court held an evidentiary hearing and eventually credited the attorney’s testimony that he felt that character evidence was not relevant because the defendant’s wife had testified that she did not believe the complainant. The trial court then denied the PCRA Petition, finding that trial counsel had provided the effective assistance of counsel.

The Appeal of the PCRA Petition’s Denial

PCRA Petitions can be difficult to win in the trial court because they are typically heard by the judge who presided over the trial. Naturally, many judges do not want to overturn a conviction for a case where they sat through the trial, particularly if the judge agreed with the result. Fortunately, the improper denial of a Post-Conviction Relief Act Petition may be appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court and Supreme Court if necessary. Judges may also simply disagree with the claims raised in the Petition.

After the trial judge denied the PCRA Petition, Attorney Goldstein immediately filed an appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. In a lengthy opinion, the Superior Court overruled the trial court and ordered a new trial. Superior Court concluded that based on a century of precedent, trial counsel was ineffective in failing to call character witnesses on R.S.’s behalf, and the mere fact that he had called fact witnesses as part of the defense did not eliminate the requirement that he provide effective representation by calling the character witnesses. The Court noted that this entire case came down to the testimony of two witnesses - the complainant who said that this happened, and R.S. who said that it did not. R.S. suffered prejudice from the fact that the jury was not informed of his outstanding reputation in the community and the instruction that that reputation alone could provide a reasonable doubt.

Fortunately, the Superior Court reversed the conviction and awarded R.S. a new trial at which he will be able to call the character witnesses.

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers Demetra Mehta and Zak Goldstein

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers Demetra Mehta and Zak Goldstein

If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have successfully obtained full acquittals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, DUI, PWID, Rape, and Murder. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.

PA Superior Court: Sentencing Gradation of Unlawful Contact with Minor Charge Must Take Acquittal on More Serious Charges Into Account

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Pope, holding that the gradation of an unlawful contact with minor charge must take an acquittal on more serious charges into account. This is because the unlawful contact with a minor provides that unlawful contact shall either be graded as a felony of the third degree or the same as the most serious sexual offense that the defendant is alleged to have committed. In this case, the defendant was acquitted of first-degree-felony Attempted Involuntary Deviate Sexual Contact, and therefore the trial court erred in grading the unlawful contact with a minor charge as a felony of the first degree at sentencing.

The Facts of Pope

In Pope, the Commonwealth alleged that the minor complainant lived with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, the defendant, from the age of three years old until she turned thirteen. At some point, the complainant began dating someone her own age. The complainant accused the defendant of extorting her for sexual favors in exchange for permission to visit her boyfriend. Specifically, she testified that she had to give the defendant a hand job for a two hour visit, two hand jobs for a four hour visit, or a blow job for a full day visit with her boyfriend. She testified that this happened on numerous occasions. She also claimed that on one occasion, the defendant attempted to have anal sex with her.

The complainant eventually told a friend that this had been happening, and her father eventually learned of the allegations. Her father took her to the police station to make a report. Police eventually charged the defendant with attempted involuntary deviate sexual intercourse (“IDSI”), aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault, one count of unlawful contact with a minor, and one count of corruption with minors. Following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of unlawful contact with a minor and corruption of minors. The jury acquitted him of the other offenses. At sentencing, the trial court graded the unlawful contact with minors charge as a felony of the first degree and sentenced the defendant to 62-124 months’ incarceration. The defendant appealed, and the Superior Court denied the appeal.

PCRA Challenge to the Illegal Sentence

After the Superior Court denied the appeal, the defendant filed a timely Post-Conviction Relief Act Petition, eventually alleging, among other things, that his trial and appellate attorneys provided the ineffective assistance of counsel in failing to challenge the F1 gradation of the unlawful contact with minors charge. The trial court dismissed the petition, and the defendant appealed the denial of the PCRA to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. This time, the Superior Court granted relief.

The Superior Court Appeal

Initially, the defendant claimed that he had received the ineffective assistance of counsel because his prior attorneys failed to challenge the gradation of the unlawful contact charge. The Superior Court, however, concluded that it had the power to correct an illegal sentence even on the direct appeal of a timely PCRA Petition and that it did not have to reach the issue of whether the prior attorneys were ineffective. Instead, the Superior Court simply agreed with the defendant.

Section 6318 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code defines unlawful contact with a minor as follows:

(a) Offense defined.--A person commits an offense if he is intentionally in contact with a minor, or a law enforcement officer acting in the performance of his duties who has assumed the identity of a minor, for the purpose of engaging in an activity prohibited under any of the following, and either the person initiating the contact or the person being contacted is within this Commonwealth:

(1) Any of the offenses enumerated in Chapter 31 (relating to sexual offenses).

(2) Open lewdness as defined in section 5901 (relating to open lewdness).

(3) Prostitution as defined in section 5902 (relating to prostitution and related offenses).

(4) Obscene and other sexual materials and performances as defined in section 5903 (relating to obscene and other sexual materials and performances).

(5) Sexual abuse of children as defined in section 6312 (relating to sexual abuse of children).

(6) Sexual exploitation of children as defined in section 6320 (relating to sexual exploitation of children).

(b) Grading.--A violation of subsection (a) is:

(1) an offense of the same grade and degree as the most serious underlying offense in subsection (a) for which the defendant contacted the minor; or

(2) a felony of the third degree; whichever is greater.

Thus, the key issue in the appeal was what the most serious underlying offense in subsection (a) for which the defendant contacted the minor would be following the jury’s acquittal on the most serious charge of IDSI. In general, the Commonwealth does not even have to charge a defendant with other offenses in order to pursue a prosecution for unlawful contact. Instead, the Commonwealth would simply allege unlawful contact with a minor, and if the prosecution could prove that the contact was for the purpose of committing IDSI (for example by obtaining oral or anal sex), then the unlawful contact would be properly graded as an F1.

The analysis changes, however, when a jury acquits the defendant of specific charges. Where the jury acquits the defendant of more serious charges, the sentencing court is not permitted to guess which offense the defendant sought to commit when he contacted the minor. Instead, the sentencing court should apply the default gradation of a felony of the third degree. Further, the jury instructions did not provide any clarification in this case as to which offense the jury found the defendant had attempted to commit. Therefore, the Superior Court reversed the sentence and found that the defendant should have been sentenced on unlawful contact with a minor as a felony of the third degree. The defendant will receive a new sentence, and it will necessarily be shorter because the maximum sentence for a felony of the third degree is 3.5-7 years’ incarceration.

FACING CRIMINAL CHARGES? WE CAN HELP.

Criminal Defense Lawyers Demetra Mehta and Zak Goldstein

Criminal Defense Lawyers Demetra Mehta and Zak Goldstein

If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have successfully obtained full acquittals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, Rape, and Murder. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.



PA Supreme Court: 4th Amendment Does Not Bar Computer Repair Technicians From Showing Police Your Illegal Files

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Shaffer. The Court held that the Fourth Amendment does not prevent computer repair technicians who find child pornography on a computer brought in for repair from showing that illegal material to the police. The Constitution also does not prohibit the police from looking at what the repair technicians found without a search warrant so long as the police do not attempt to view additional files and portions of the hard drive until they have obtained a search warrant. The Supreme Court reaffirmed its prior holdings that the Fourth Amendment only provides protection against governmental action. However, the Court did hold that individuals maintain privacy interests in their computer files even when they are turned over to a private commercial establishment.

Commonwealth v. Shaffer

The defendant brought his laptop computer to a computer repair shop called CompuGig. In order to obtain repair services, the defendant was required to complete CompuGig’s intake form which asked what problems the customer was experiencing. This form listed several options. The defendant marked the boxes indicating “Spyware/virus” and “Can’t get to Internet.” He also provided his login password and told the employee that his son downloaded some things and now there were a lot of pop-ups and that the internet had stopped working.

After conducting a diagnostic testing, one of CompuGig’s technicians believed that the defendant’s computer had a failing hard drive. The technician called the defendant and asked if he would consent to replacing the hard drive. The defendant consented. The technician also took an image of the hard drive so that he could transfer it to the defendant’s new hard drive. However, the technician was having difficulty transferring the files on the defendant’s old hard drive to his new one. The technician began to manually open the files on the hard drive and copy them. While doing this, the technician uncovered what he believed to be sexually explicit photos of children. It is important to note that the technician was not searching for this material and had never been asked by law enforcement to look for evidence of child pornography. After discovering this contraband, the technician notified his boss, and the store called the police.

Later that afternoon, Officer Maloney of the Cranberry Township Police Department arrived at CompuGig. The store owners advised Officer Maloney that the technicians found explicit images of young girls on the defendant’s laptop and took the officer to the room where the technician had been working on the computer. Officer Maloney then asked to see the images that the technician had found. The technician, using the “exact route taken to find the images” which he had used earlier, showed Officer Maloney the pictures. After viewing these images, Officer Maloney directed the technician to “shut down the file,” and he seized the laptop, external hard drive copy, and power cord.

Detective Irvin of the Cranberry Township Police Department went to the defendant’s home and questioned him. The defendant admitted to having some images on his computer depicting children as young as eight years old in sexually explicit positions. He also identified the folders where these images were stored. Detective Irvin met with the defendant again and obtained a written inculpatory statement regarding the pictures on his computer.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with possession of child pornography and criminal use of a communication facility. The defendant then filed a pretrial omnibus motion to suppress the contraband images discovered on the hard drive of his laptop computer.

Can Police Search Your Computer Without A Warrant If The Store Found the Illegal Images First?

In his Motion to Suppress, the defendant argued that the police illegally searched his computer when Officer Maloney directed the technician to open the defendant’s computer files and display the suspected contraband images and then subsequently seized the laptop and the copy of the external hard drive. Further, he argued that the police conduct constituted a warrantless search of his laptop in violation of his reasonable expectation of privacy, as well as a trespass upon his property in violation of both the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions. He also argued that his statements that he made to the detective were the fruit of the poisonous tree and should also be suppressed.

In response, the Commonwealth argued that the defendant abandoned his expectation of privacy in the computer files stored on the laptop. Notably, the Commonwealth did not argue the private search doctrine. Instead, the Commonwealth focused primarily on the Pennsylvania Superior Court’s decision in Commonwealth v. Sodomsky. The facts of Sodomsky were very similar to those in the defendant’s case. In Sodomsky, the Superior Court held that the defendant in that case had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his illegal computer files. The Sodomsky Court held that individuals do maintain a privacy interest in some things that are accessible to the public and thus can be constitutionally protected. Therefore, it is a very fact specific inquiry to determine whether a defendant abandoned his privacy interest. In Sodomsky, the Superior Court held that the defendant abandoned his interest because the computer employees informed him that the operability of his computer would be tested and that he did not inquire as to the manner of testing or restrict the employee’s access to the location of the illicit files. They also emphasized that the defendant did not delete the photos from his computer even though he turned it over to the police.  

The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress. The trial court held that the defendant abandoned his expectation of privacy when he requested repairs on his computer related to complaints of a virus and an inability to use the Internet and consented to the replacement of his hard drive. The trial court also rejected the defendant’s trespass argument because the technician was engaged in conduct permitted by the defendant when the files were discovered and thus there was no trespass on the defendant’s effects. The defendant then proceeded by way of a bench trial where he was found guilty. He was sentenced to six to twelve months of incarceration, followed by 156 months of probation. The defendant then filed a timely appeal. 

The Superior Court’s Decision

The Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. The Superior Court focused primarily on the Sodomsky decision. The defendant filed an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Court granted his petition for allowance of appeal to determine whether the defendant abandoned his expectation of privacy in in the computer.

What is the Private Search Doctrine?

The Fourth Amendment applies only to the government. Thus, a criminal defendant cannot successfully argue that a private citizen, while acting in a purely private capacity, violated his or her constitutional rights when that person conducted a search and seizure of a defendant’s property. The United States Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment is only implicated “if the authorities use information with respect to which the expectation of privacy has not already been frustrated.” In other words, if a private party searches a defendant’s property, and the government does not exceed the private party’s search, then a defendant cannot claim that their Fourth Amendment rights were violated. Pennsylvania also follows the Private Search Doctrine as discussed in Commonwealth v. Corley.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Decision

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress. As a preliminary matter, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that defendants maintain privacy interests in their computer files even when turned over to a private company. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that even though the defendant maintained a privacy interest in the files, because a non-governmental actor discovered them, the Fourth Amendment could not provide relief to him.

The Commonwealth had not not argued the Private Search Doctrine at the motion to suppress, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that it could still apply the doctrine to the defendant’s case. In the defendant’s case, the Court found it of no consequence that Officer Maloney asked the technician to show him the illicit files because the technician had already discovered them. Therefore, the defendant’s privacy interest in them had already been compromised. As such, he was not entitled to relief, and consequently the defendant will not get a new trial.

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorneys Demetra Mehta and Zak Goldstein

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorneys Demetra Mehta and Zak Goldstein

If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have successfully obtained full acquittals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, Rape, and Murder. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.