PA Superior Court: Commonwealth May Amend Bills of Information to Include New Victim on Day of Trial Unless Defendant Shows Prejudice

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Jackson, holding that the trial court properly permitted the prosecution to amend the Bills of Information to include new victims on the morning of trial because the defendant was on notice of those victims and failed to show any prejudice due to the amendment.

The Facts of Jackson

In Jackson, the defendant was charged with Terroristic Threats (M1) in Philadelphia for allegedly threatening various co-workers at his federal job. The defendant had a number of telephone conversations and left a number of voice mails in which he used racial slurs, threatened co-workers, and said other generally distasteful and unsettling things. The majority of these phone calls, however, involved making these threats towards other co-workers to a specific co-worker with whom he was more friendly. He did not really, however, threaten the one co-worker to whom he made the majority of his comments.

Can the Commonwealth Amend the Bills of Information on the Day of Trial?

Prior to trial, the Commonwealth filed Bills of Information. The Bills of Information generally identify the charges which a defendant will face as well as the name of the victim, the date on which the crime allegedly occurred, and the gradation of the charges. The Commonwealth may later move to amend the Bills of Information, but if the Commonwealth has failed to prove the charges as identified in the Bills by the end of the trial, then the court should find insufficient evidence to convict a defendant. In this case, the original Bills of Information listed only the co-worker who he did not really threaten as the victim. Instead, the defendant had made a number of threatening remarks about other co-workers to that co-worker. Realizing this error, the Commonwealth moved to amend the Bills of Information on the day of the bench trial.

The defense attorney objected to the Commonwealth’s motion to amend the Bills, but the trial court permitted the amendment. The defendant then proceeded by way of bench trial and was found guilty of one count of Terroristic Threats. He was subsequently sentenced to three years of reporting probation, and he appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. 

The Superior Court Appeal

On appeal, the Superior Court affirmed the conviction. The defendant raised the issue of whether the trial court improperly permitted the Commonwealth to amend the Bills of Information on the day of trial, but the Superior Court rejected this argument.

First, the Court reasoned that the majority of the defendant’s argument had been waived by the defendant’s failure to make specific objections on the day of trial and by the defense attorney’s sloppy drafting of the Statement of Errors. Further, the Court concluded that even if the arguments were not waived, they should be rejected.

The Court reasoned that under Pa.R.Crim.P. 564:

The court may allow an information to be amended, provided that the information as amended does not charge offenses arising from a different set of events and that the amended charges are not so materially different from the original charge that the defendant would be unfairly prejudiced. Upon amendment, the court may grant such postponement of trial or other relief as is necessary in the interests of justice.

The purpose of the rule is to make sure that the defendant knows what he is charged with and does not have to devise a new defense on the day of trial. In deciding whether to grant an amendment, a court should consider the following factors as to whether the defendant was prejudiced:

  1. Whether the amendment changes the factual scenario,

  2. Whether new facts, previously unknown to the defendant were added,

  3. Whether the description of the charges changed,

  4. Whether the amendment necessitated a change in defense strategy,

  5. And whether the timing of the request for the amendment allowed for ample notice and preparation by the defendant.

Here, the Court court concluded that the defendant failed to show any prejudice which would have justified denying the motion to amend the Bills of Information. The alleged victims were clearly identified at the preliminary hearing and in the pre-trial discovery provided by the Commonwealth, and the complaint also put the defendant on notice of the threats with which he was charged. Therefore, amending the bills to add the additional co-workers did not prejudice the defendant as he already knew what he was charged with doing. The Court denied the appeal, and it found sufficient evidence to uphold the defendant’s conviction for Terroristic Threats.

 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, 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.