October 2010 Archives

October 31, 2010

Too Many Continuances in Pennsylvania Preliminary Hearings for Police No Shows

Pennsylvania is unique to other states because a preliminary hearing is required to take place in every felony or misdemeanor case. In other states the grand jury system is utilized more frequently.

At the preliminary hearing, many cases get continued or rescheduled. This results in innefficieny in our criminal system. I believe some Pennsylvania District Courts are very slow at moving cases. There are many legitimate reasons for continuances. Continuances may be granted for various reasons but the following are the most common reasons I see attorneys and defendants continue the preliminary hearing: the defendant needs to hire an attorney, the attorney is busy in another court or in DUI and drug cases the police are waiting for lab reports. However, in my practice I have noticed an ongoing problem of "no shows" by police officers in the high crime areas such as Coatesville in Chester County and the City of Chester in Delaware County. In other districts, "officer no shows" are typically legitimate. For instance, the officer may be on vacation or in training or on the street making an arrest. I belive these are legitimate reasons for the judge to grant a continuance. However, in the high crime areas, officers chronically fail to appear sometimes for unknown reasons. Nonetheless, the judges will still continue the case and give the officer a chance to appear.

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October 27, 2010

Two Hour DUI Motions in Philadelphia are Just Plain Lip Service

In order for a defendant to be found guilty of a DUI in Pennsylvania, his or her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test must be performed within two hours of driving or having "actual physical control" of a motor vehicle. In other words, the police have a two hour limit to take you back to the station to perform the breathalyzer or blood test. However, the DUI law also states that there are exceptions to the rule. The police may be late giving the suspect the BAC test if good cause is shown by the police. The following would be examples of good cause for failure to give the defendant a BAC test within two hours: there was traffic on the way to the DUI processing center, the officer's vehicle broke down, the officer had to restrain a violent defendant, there was a natural disaster etc. These are only examples that the judge or jury may consider as good cause to miss the two hour deadline. "Good cause" is a question for the finder of fact to determine.

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October 18, 2010

Horizontal Judicial System in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Results in Backlog of Cases

There has been a lot of talk in the media regarding the inability of the Philadelphia court system to handle its caseload. After appearing in the Philadelphia court system for several criminal cases it is apparent to me why the system is failing. The Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas uses a horizontal model in hearing criminal cases. In the horizontal system the case is assigned to a different judge for each step in the criminal process. For example, the case will initially be given a status date with an initial judge. At this date the Assistant District Attorney will give the defense attorney discovery and a plea offer. The defense attorney and the defendant will then decide to take the plea bargain or proceed to trial. Typically, in serious cases that proceed to trial, the defense attorney will file a pre-trial motion. Once the defense attorney files this motion the case will then be kicked out to another judge to hear the pre-trial motion. Once this motion is heard the case will be kicked back to the status judge to schedule for trial date. If the defense attorney has any motions in limine or other pre-trial motions it will be kicked out to another judge before trial. Once the other pre-trial motions are heard it will again be kicked back to a status judge, which could be an entirely different judge. Then, the case will be kicked out to another judge for a jury trial.

Do you see the problem with this system? Do you see the inefficiency? There are way too many status dates that are a waste of time. Additionally, it compounds the problem when the Assistant District Attorney and defense attorney have to explain the case all over again to a different judge each time. This also increases the possibility of the judges making mistakes when they have to address a case they are not familiar with. I have made 6 or 7 trips to Philly on one particular case that should have taken 2-3 trips to the courthouse max.

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