Erie Lawyers Dispute Superior Court Ruling Which Allowing Hearsay Evidence at Hearings
Erie prosecutors continue to have trouble with victims and witnesses, not showing up to testify in court. But now, a new Superior Court ruling, Commonwealth V Ricker, is helping to move major cases forward, in the court system.
Erie prosecutors continue to have trouble with victims and witnesses, not showing up to testify in court.
But now, a recent Superior Court ruling is helping to move major cases forward, in the court system.
It's a ruling, in which many defense attorney's aren't happy about.
At the preliminary hearing stage, the prosecution has to prove what's called a prima facie case.
Meaning, they really only have to present minimal evidence that the defendant committed the crime.
And now, because of a July, 2015 Superior Court ruling, Commonwealth V Ricker, that evidence can include hearsay testimony.
The most recent local case was this past Monday, during the homicide preliminary hearing for 40-year old Torriano Beard.
An Erie Police detective sergeant testified for 30 minutes about their investigation, and also to what several witnesses told police.
Despite objection from the defense attorney, that hearsay testimony was allowed, with the prosecution citing the Ricker ruling.
The prosecution also presented other evidence, including surveillance video which placed Beard at the scene, and a judge bound over all charges to trial.
Prosecutors also used the Superior Court ruling, in the case against the five defendants, charged with homicide for the summer 2015 shootout which killed two 16-year-old boys.
During that preliminary hearing, the detective testified for three hours, to what victims and witnesses told investigators.
All five defense lawyers objected, including Gene Placidi, "I obviously think that it puts the defendants at a complete disadvantage because of the fact that the first time they don't get the opportunity to cross examine witnesses," said Placidi. "So the first time they're going see witnesses is at trial, and it makes it very difficult because you can't challenge their credibility," Placidi added.
Defense Attorney John Carlson is also defending one of the five suspects charged with homicide, "From the defense standpoint, I think it's (ruling) fundamentally unfair because a person's freedom is at stake," said Carlson. "Through this ruling, it gives the prosecution the opportunity to play 'hide the ball' with the complaining witnesses. How is that fundamentally fair in a society that prides itself on freedom?" Carlson asked.
The Supreme Court is now reviewing the ruling, and many defense attorneys are hopeful it will be reversed, "Any statute in violation of a citizen's constitutional rights must fall. Therefore a citizen has a constitutional right to confront his accuser, a statute which takes that away, or tries to trump it, doesn't, so it must fall," said Carlson.
Placidi is confident it's a law that will be overturned, "These people (defendants) are sitting in jail for months theoretically, without a witness testifying against them. It doesn't seem right, and it isn't right, it's not fair," said Placidi.
With the district attorney's office dealing with victims and witnesses not showing up to testify, cases are then often dropped at the preliminary hearing stage.
But with this ruling, cases can more easily move forward to trial or a plea deal.
Erie county prosecutors have used the Ricker ruling on several occasions.
The Erie county district attorney did not return our phone calls for comment.