A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

PA FlagBy Burt Rose
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The Superior Court of Pennsylvania has issued a ruling in the case of COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Dennis L. PRENDES, Appellant, No. 277 EDA 2013, 2014 WL 3586262, 2014 PA Super 151 (July 22, 2014), an appeal from a Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County, CP–48–CR–0001246–2012. The Panel was composed of Judges GANTMAN, SHOGAN and PLATT. Judge Gantman wrote the Opinion for the Panel.

This Appellant pled guilty to indecent assault of a person under thirteen years old, endangering the welfare of children, and corruption of minors. At the plea colloquy, the trial judge asked the Appellant, “Did you touch [S.P.'s] vagina for the purpose of arousing sexual desire to yourself? The Appellant replied in the affirmative. On appeal, the Appellant challenged his SVP status as being based on inadmissible hearsay.

Given that an SVP hearing is not a trial and the primary purpose of the SVP registration requirements is to protect the public, not to punish the offender, the Commonwealth had only to prove Appellant was subject to SVP status by clear and convincing evidence. A SOAB expert’s opinion may be based on facts or data that the expert has been made aware of or personally observed so long as experts in the particular field reasonably rely on those kinds of facts or data in forming an opinion on the subject. The facts or data consulted need not be admissible for the expert’s opinion to be admitted.

The SOAB expert here, Dr. Valliere, stated unequivocally that Appellant met SVP classification based solely on the facts and admissions contained in the guilty plea colloquy, which established that Appellant had committed and been convicted of a sexually violent offense and had the mental abnormality of pedophilia. Dr. Valliere attested she had reviewed and relied on numerous written records as part of her assessment, including the arrest warrant, affidavit of probable cause, police reports, charge sheet, statements by the victim, and confirmed that these records are ones typically relied on in SOAB evaluations. Such facts or data consulted need not be admissible or proved beyond a reasonable doubt in order to find the expert opinion admissible. Therefore, the Court held that the SVP ruling would be affirmed.

violet oakleBy Burt Rose

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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has ruled in the expungment case of COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Mark WALLACE, Appellee, 2014 WL 3579692 (7/21/14), a Philadelphia case before Judge Frank Palumbo.

The Court was called upon to decide the question of whether the Superior Court had erred in reversing the lower court and holding that an inmate has a right to petition for expungment. Commonwealth v. Wallace, 45 A.3d 446 (Pa.Super.2012). The issue was: “Did the Superior Court err by holding that an incarcerated career criminal has a due process right to a hearing at which the trial court must determine-on a charge by charge basis-whether over a hundred prior criminal charges against him should be expunged?”

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous Opinion written by Justice Stevens, found that due process does not guarantee this right to an inmate while still incarcerated. The Court noted that because the Appellee’s criminal record is so vast, it is unlikely that he will face specific negative repercussions based on the existence of the remainder of his record that he wants to expunge, while the Commonwealth has legitimate concerns about retaining this inmate’s complete record.

MARTIN0011405961170Kevin Martin becomes emotional while talking to reporters after leaving the D.C. Superior courthouse on Monday after being exonerated for a crime he didn’t commit. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Click for full report from the Washington Post

By Keith L. Alexander and Spencer S. Hsu July 21 at 11:34 AM
A D.C. Superior Court judge concluded Monday that DNA evidence exonerates a man who spent 26 years in prison for the 1982 rape and murder of a Washington woman.

Kevin Martin’s case marks the fifth time in as many years that federal prosecutors in D.C. acknowledged that errors by an elite FBI forensic unit have led to a wrongful conviction.

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Session schedule

The House returns to session on August 4.  The House and Senate resume session on September 15.

Public hearing

July 23– House Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on PA Fingerprint Reporting.  Room 140. 10:00.

NewsClips:

PA Legal Aid Fund Benefits Needy In PA

PA Corrections Work Example For The Nation

PA Supreme Court issues updated guide for child dependency cases

Click to news item on Supreme Court website

Source:  Crisci Associates PA Capitol Digest

imagesA Federal judge’s ruling that California’s death penalty is unconstitutional was described by legal experts Wednesday as stunning and unprecedented.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney found that decades-long delays and uncertainty about whether condemned inmates will ever be executed violate the constitution’s ban on cruel or unusual punishment.

Click for full report from Los Angeles Times and link to Opinion

A Federal judge in Orange County ruled Wednesday that California’s death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney, ruled on a petition by death row inmate Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was sentenced to die nearly two decades ago.

Carney said the state’s death penalty has created long delays and uncertainty for inmates, most of whom will never be executed.

He noted that more than 900 people have been sentenced to death in California since 1978 but only 13 have been executed.

la-me-ln-cormac-carney-20140716

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney, shown in 2005, ruled Wednesday that California’s death penalty is unconstitutional. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Click for entire report in the Los Angeles Times

Pennsylvania FlagBy Burt Rose
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The Superior Court of Pennsylvania has issued a decision in the case of COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Alexander Shwarz, Appellant, 1847 EDA 2012 (July 15, 2014). This was an appeal from a judgment of sentence before Judge Earl Trent in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. The Appellant, a Philadelphia police officer, was convicted following a trial by jury of official oppression and related offenses. On direct appeal, he alleged that the trial judge had exhibited bias against the defense. The Panel was composed of Judges Ford Elliott, Wecht and Musmanno. Judge Ford Elliott wrote the Opinion for the three judge panel which granted Mr. Shwarz a new trial, notwithstanding the judge’s cautionary instructions to the jury, since the trial court’s manner of questioning the defense witnesses reflected its belief that the Appellant’s version of the events was not credible and was not neutral in content. This impropriety was most on display when the Appellant testified on his own behalf and Judge Trent in effect cross-examined the Appellant in a way that made clear that the court doubted his credibility.

The attorney for the Appellant was …….me!
Burt Rose

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