Sex Crimes

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.

 

PA Superior Court: Defendant Entitled to Less Stringent SORNA Registration Requirements Where Jury Did Not Find Specific Date of Offense

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak T. Goldstein, Esq.

Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak T. Goldstein, Esq.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case Commonwealth v. Alston. This decision reaffirms previous decisions that held that Sexually Violent Predator hearings under the original Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (“SORNA”) are unconstitutional. Further, in this case, the Superior Court ruled that where the defendant’s crimes could have occurred both before and after the enactment of SORNA and the jury has not made a specific determination as to the date of the offense, the defendant should be required to register under the less onerous version of the statute.  

Commonwealth v. Alston

The defendant was accused of sexually assaulting the complainant from May 28, 2009 to May 1, 2013. The complainant was eleven years old when the abuse began. The complainant’s sister eventually discovered the abuse and notified the police. After a three-day jury trial that began on February 10, 2016, the defendant was found guilty of a multitude of charges including: statutory sexual assault, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse (“IDSI”), indecent assault, criminal use of a communication facility, unlawful contact with a minor and corruption of minors. Significantly, the jury did not specifically determine the dates on which the defendant committed these offenses.

The trial court sentenced the defendant to an aggregate term of 15 to 40 years’ incarceration. Additionally, because rape of a child and IDSI with a person less than 16 years old are both Tier III offenses under SORNA, the defendant was required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. The trial court also held a Sexually Violent Predator hearing and determined that the defendant was in fact a Sexually Violent Predator and therefore subject to lifetime reporting requirements.

The defendant eventually appealed, and on appeal he raised one issue: whether the trial court improperly imposed a lifetime reporting requirement under the original SORNA statute following the SVP hearing?

What is an SVP?

A SVP is a sex offender who is deemed to have a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in predatory sexually violent offenses. After someone is convicted of sexually violent offense in Pennsylvania, the court can order a SVP assessment to be conducted by the Sex Offender Assessment Board “SOAB”). The SOAB publishes its findings to the parties, and the court will then hold a hearing to determine whether the person is an SVP. It is noteworthy that the standard proof for these hearings is not beyond a reasonable doubt (the standard for criminal trials). Instead, it is the clear and convincing evidence standard, which is a much lower standard. The original SORNA statute allowed the judge to make the SVP determination instead of a jury, and the amended SORNA statute retains this defect.

What Happens if You Are Classified as an SVP?

If someone is deemed an SVP, the person is required to register with the Pennsylvania State Police for the rest of their life. Additionally, the individual is required to participate in monthly (at a minimum) sex offender counseling from a provider that is approved by the SOAB. Also, the local authorities will notify the community and provide the SVP’s name and address. This means that someone who was convicted of a Tier I Offense which may only require 15 years of registration could be required to register for life if they are found to be a Sexually Violent Predator.

Why Were SVP Hearings Ruled Unconstitutional?

In Commonwealth v. Butler, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that SVP hearings as provided for by SORNA are unconstitutional because they expose defendants to an enhanced criminal penalty without any requirement that the jury make the necessary findings beyond a reasonable doubt. Because the SVP procedures permitted the trial judge to make the ruling instead of a jury and because they used a lesser standard, the Butler Court found that the procedures were unconstitutional. The Butler Court held that the trial courts can no longer designate convicted defendants as Sexually Violent Predators or hold SVP hearings “until the General Assembly enacts a constitutional designation mechanism.”

Is There a New Version of SORNA?

Yes. In February of 2018, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law Act 10. Act 10 amended several provisions of SORNA and added new sections. Notably, Act 10’s Subchapters H and I addressed reporting requirements for sex offenders that committed their crimes on or after April 22, 1996, but before December 20, 2012. Subchapter I has less stringent reporting requirements than Subchapter H. Notably, Act 10 retained the “clear and convincing” standard for SVP hearings and there was not a “constitutional designation mechanism” in the statute either. Challenges to the new statute are ongoing. The Commonwealth and legislature, however, are defending the statute by arguing that because the reporting requirements are somewhat less stringent, the SVP designation no longer constitutes punishment. If it does not constitute criminal punishment, then the facts do not need to be found by a jury using the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. This argument seems unlikely to prevail, but it is always difficult to predict what the courts will do in these cases.  

The Pennsylvania Superior Court’s Decision

The Court held that the defendant should not have been deemed an SVP because the procedures for finding that someone is an SVP under the old version of SORNA remain unconstitutional and because the jury did not make a specific finding as to the dates on which the illegal sexual conduct occurred. Because the defendant’s alleged actions could have occurred both before and after SORNA’s effective date and the jury did not make a specific finding, the defendant was entitled to the benefit of the doubt because any ambiguity in criminal law generally must be resolved in favor of the defendant. Therefore, the Court ruled that he should be required to register under the newly-created Subchapter I of the amended SORNA statute. Therefore, the case was remanded to the trial court for the defendant to be advised of his new registration requirements and raise any challenges to those requirements. This opinion did not address the constitutionality of the amended SORNA statute, and that litigation is ongoing at this time.

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 Attempted 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: Relevant, Exculpatory DNA Evidence Requires New Homicide Degree of Guilt Hearing

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Payne. The Superior Court held that the trial court erred in denying the defendant a new degree of guilt hearing where recently-obtained DNA evidence showed that the defendant did not rape the victim in a case in which the prosecution obtained a conviction for first degree murder by relying primarily on the fact that the defendant had allegedly raped the victim prior to killing her. This case involved a Post-Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”) challenge based on after-discovered evidence to the defendant’s conviction for first degree murder at a degree of guilt hearing in which the defendant pleaded guilty to homicide generally but argued that he should only be convicted of third degree murder. The degree of guilt matters tremendously in a homicide case because first degree murder requires a sentence of life without parole and third degree murder does not.

Commonwealth v. Payne

In 1977, the defendant pled guilty to murder generally, and three judges were empaneled to decide his degree of guilt. At this hearing, the Commonwealth presented evidence to support its position that the defendant committed a first degree murder. Specifically, the Commonwealth argued that the defendant murdered the victim while he was raping her.

As part of its case-in-chief, the Commonwealth presented the testimony of a Mr. Evans who was incarcerated with the defendant in Erie County prison. Mr. Evans testified that the defendant admitted to him that he strangled the victim in the woods after he raped her and that her death “was a culmination of a sexual fantasy that he had been living with for a long time; that he likes to tie women up and do crazy things to ‘em.” The Commonwealth also called a chemist employed with the Pennsylvania State Police to corroborate Mr. Evans’s testimony that the victim died while “protesting a sexual attack upon her.” The Commonwealth also presented a statement made by the defendant to the police.

Per the Superior Court’s decision, this statement was similar to Mr. Evans’s testimony. At the conclusion of the hearing, the defendant argued that this was a third degree murder. The Panel rejected his argument and convicted the defendant of first degree Murder. In its decision, the Panel placed significant weight on the conclusion that the defendant raped the victim when making its determination that it was a first degree murder and not third degree. Although other evidence was presented, the Panel relied exclusively of the testimony of Mr. Evans and the chemist in its opinion. The defendant was therefore automatically sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. The defendant then filed the first of several appeals and PCRA petitions.

After several unsuccessful attempts at post-conviction relief, on January 8, 1997, the defendant filed a PCRA petition requesting DNA testing on the seminal fluid that was recovered from the victim’s body. The PCRA court denied his petition. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied his petition for allowance of appeal. On February 6, 2003, the defendant filed a Motion for DNA testing pursuant to the then-newly passed provision of the PCRA permitting DNA testing under certain circumstances. The PCRA court again denied his motion, and he appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court decision and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied his petition for allowance of appeal.

Undeterred, the defendant then filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania against the Erie County District Attorney’s Office alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for its refusal to permit the DNA testing. While his case was being litigated in federal court, the defendant filed a second motion for DNA testing. On October 4, 2011, the PCRA court again denied relief and both the Pennsylvania Superior Court and Supreme Court also denied him relief. However, on December 16, 2014, the United States District Court signed a stipulated order permitting the post-conviction DNA testing. The DNA test results established conclusively that the defendant was excluded as a contributor to the seminal fluid found on the victim’s body.

Based on this new evidence, the Defendant filed another PCRA petition asserting that he is entitled to a new trial or degree of guilt hearing based on this after-discovered evidence. Again, the PCRA court denied him relief and the defendant filed another appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

What is a Degree of Guilt Hearing?

A degree of guilt hearing is required when a defendant pleads generally to murder in a case in which the defendant could receive the death penalty. If a defendant pleads guilty or no-contest, then the degree of guilt shall be determined by a jury, unless the Commonwealth elects to have a judge make a determination as to what degree of murder the defendant is guilty of and consequentially what his sentence will be. These hearings are quasi-trials where the Commonwealth and the defense can present evidence and argue that the defendant should be found guilty of first or third degree murder.

What is after-discovered evidence under the PCRA?

42 Pa. C.S. § 9543 (a)(2)(vi) is the statute that governs the after-discovered evidence prong of the PCRA. In order to obtain relief under this subsection, which could include a new trial and/or sentencing, a defendant must show that 1) the evidence has been discovered after trial and it could not have been obtained at or prior to trial through reasonable diligence; 2) the evidence is not cumulative; 3) it is not being used solely to impeach credibility; and 4) it would likely compel a different verdict. The test is conjunctive, meaning that each element must be satisfied. Further, the defendant must satisfy each element by the preponderance of the evidence standard in order to be successful.

In making this determination, the court will consider several factors in making its decision including: the nature of the new evidence; whether, and to what extent, the new evidence is consistent or inconsistent with the other trial testimony; whether, and to what extent, the new evidence is consistent or inconsistent with documentary evidence; the prosecution’s theory at the original trial, and the difficulty of making this argument in light of the new evidence; the prosecutor’s closing remarks, which may demonstrate the importance of the new evidence; and other relevant factors. However, one must remember that this “after-discovered evidence” does not require that the new evidence prove a defendant’s innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, the defendant does not have to prove his innocence in order to be successful in his petition, he is only required to show that it would have likely compelled a different outcome.   

The Superior Court’s Decision

The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that the defendant was entitled to a new degree of guilt hearing. According to the Superior Court’s decision, the only issue was whether the defendant had established by a preponderance of the evidence that the DNA evidence would have changed the outcome of the trial if it had been introduced. In the instant case, the Superior Court held that this evidence would have changed the outcome of the hearing.

The reason is because the Commonwealth’s theory of the case was that the defendant killed the victim while sexually assaulting her. The prosecution repeatedly emphasized the evidence of seminal fluid during the closing argument to the Panel arguing that “at least it was a rape” and that the presence of seminal fluid was proof of the intent required for a first-degree murder conviction. As such, because the DNA evidence was uncontroverted in that the defendant was not the source, the Panel erred in placing such significant weight on it when making its decision. Further, this evidence discredits Mr. Evans’s testimony, a key witness against the defendant. Therefore, the defendant satisfied the after-discovered evidence requirements and the defendant is entitled to a new degree of guilt hearing.

Facing Criminal Charges? We Can Help.

Criminal Defense Attorneys

Criminal Defense Attorneys

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 obtained full acquittals, dismissals, and other successful results in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, Theft, 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 Upholds Dismissal of Case Where Prosecutor Intimidated Defense Witness

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak Goldstein

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Byrd, upholding the trial court’s decision to dismiss serious criminal charges due to prosecutorial misconduct. Specifically, in Byrd, the trial court found that the assigned Assistant District Attorney intentionally intimidated a potential defense witness and pressured her not to come to court. The Superior Court agreed and found that the prosecutorial misconduct required the dismissal of the charges under the Double Jeopardy Clauses of both the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions.

Commonwealth v. Byrd

The defendant was charged with multiple drug, firearm, and sexual assault offenses in Allegheny County, PA. As a result of multiple suppression motions that the defendant filed on his behalf and which were on appeal with the Superior Court, only the charge of Persons Not to Possess a Firearm Charge (VUFA 6105) went to trial. The defendant demanded a jury trial and chose to represent himself, but he did have stand by counsel assisting him. The trial began on November 28, 2018. In the middle of the trial, the judge received a voice mail from a woman who had been set to testify as a character witness for the defendant in which the woman claimed that the assigned ADA intimidated her out of testifying.

The judge held a hearing outside the presence of the jury and played the voice mail. In this message, the witness stated that she had been threatened by the ADA. She stated that she was scared to the point where she did not want to participate in the trial. She further stated that the ADA told her that the defendant “is the most dangerous man that he has ever met or ever seen” and asked if she knew “how or why he was in jail up in Ohio.” The prosecutor also went into specific detail about the prior charges against the defendant. Finally, the prosecutor brought up personal details about the witness. He informed her that he was aware of her financial hardship, a recent break-up, and that “he knows a lot more about me than he should.” According to her, this phone call “freak[ed] [her] out,” and  she was scared of retaliation by the District Attorney’s Office and police. She was concerned that she or her family members could be charged with a crime that they did not commit. At the end of the hearing, the judge declared a mistrial because of the ADA’s actions.

The trial court then held hearings on February 13, 2017 and March 20, 2017 to determine whether the case against the defendant should be dismissed with prejudice. At the hearing, the ADA testified. On direct examination, he testified that he obtained personal information about the witness from listening to the phone calls from the defendant. He further stated that the purpose of the call was to see whether the defendant’s prior convictions would affect her opinion of the defendant. He denied that he was trying to intimidate her.

On cross-examination, he admitted that he told the witness that the defendant was one of the most dangerous people that he had ever met. He also admitted that he knew personal details about the witness from listening to the defendant’s prison phone calls. After these hearings, the trial court dismissed the charge with prejudice. The trial court then banned the prosecutor from ever litigating in her courtroom again and called him “sneaky.” The Commonwealth appealed.

In its appeal, the Commonwealth did not dispute that a mistrial should have been granted in the defendant’s case. The Commonwealth only appealed the finding of prosecutorial misconduct that resulted in the trial court dismissing the charges and preventing retrial because of double jeopardy. Specifically, the Commonwealth argued that the trial court failed to discern the distinction between prosecutorial error, which would not require the dismissal of the charges, and prosecutorial overreach, which would.  

What is Double Jeopardy?

The Double Jeopardy Clauses of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, § 10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution protect a defendant from repeated criminal prosecutions for the same criminal episode. The basic premise behind the Double Jeopardy Clause is that the government only gets one opportunity to convict a defendant. If the defendant is acquitted of a crime, then the government cannot try him again. However, an acquittal is not the only way to trigger the Double Jeopardy Clauses. It is also important to note that a state court conviction or acquittal may not prevent the federal government from prosecuting the defendant on federal charges.

Can Prosecutorial Misconduct Trigger Double Jeopardy Protections?

Yes. If a prosecutor engages in certain forms of intentional misconduct, the Double Jeopardy Clause bars retrial. Pennsylvania’s Constitution provides broader protections for criminal defendants than the U.S. Constitution. Consequently, Article I § 10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution bars retrial not only when prosecutorial misconduct is intended to provoke the defendant into moving for a mistrial, but also when the conduct of the prosecutor is intentionally undertaken to prejudice the defendant to the point of the denial of a fair trial. It is important to note that that an error by a prosecutor does not necessarily deprive the defendant of a fair trial. However, where the prosecutor’s conduct changes from mere error to intentionally subverting the court process, then a fair trial is denied and the charges must be dismissed.

It is important to emphasize that an inadvertent mistake by a prosecutor can be remedied by a mistrial and subsequent re-trial. It is only the more egregious actions by prosecutors that will result in the court dismissing the case with prejudice. As the Pennsylvania Superior Court stated in a previous decision that addressed this issue “intentional prosecutorial misconduct…raises systematic concerns beyond a specific individual’s right to a fair trial that are left unaddressed by retrial.”

The Superior Court’s Decision

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the charges against the defendant. Two judges voted in favor of affirming the order, and one judge dissented. The Court agreed that the ADA intentionally intimidated the witness to prevent her from testifying with the intent of depriving the defendant of a fair trial. Specifically, the Superior Court was deeply troubled by the prosecutor’s conduct in informing the witness of personal details of her life and that he editorialized about the defendant’s dangerous propensity. The Superior Court found that the prosecutors statements placed the witness in fear for her own safety and for that of her family. Thus, according to the Superior Court, the prosecutor’s actions were intended to deprive the defendant of a fair trial. His acts triggered double jeopardy protections, and the case against the defendant was properly discharged.

Facing criminal charges? We can help.

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, Theft, Rape, and Attempted 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.