Sunday, December 19, 2010

Judge Dismisses Gun Cases, Points Finger at PA Supreme Court

Among America's largest cities, Philadelphia has the highest rates for gunpoint homicides, robberies, and assaults, FBI figures show. In the last comparative count, 84 percent of Philadelphia homicide victims were killed with firearms; that was the highest use of guns as the weapon of choice for homicide in the nation's top 10 cities, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Since taking charge of Philadelphia Gun Court almost a year ago, prosecutors contend that Common Pleas Court Judge Paula A.Patrick has repeatedly misapplied the law on firearms possession, prompting a record number of appeals of her decisions by the D.A.'s Office.

The 27 cases prosecutors are appealing represent a sharp spike compared with earlier years. They appealed only about five such rulings by the previous two Common Pleas Court judges assigned to annual rotations through Gun Court, according to a Inquirer analysis of court appellate records.

Judge Patrick's "lawyer", not sure why she needed a lawyer, said that she is following the law and if there is a finger to point it should be at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Court has a more defense friendly line of decisions than the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Inquirer goes into detail on the PA Supreme Court decisions. "Historically, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been one of the most liberal courts on search-and-seizure law among the states," Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz, an expert on the state's appellate courts, told the Inquirer.

In one of several key opinions on the matter written by the late Justice Ralph Cappy, the top public defender in the Pittsburgh area before he became a justice, the state Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors cannot use discarded guns or drugs if the original approach of police lacked legal justification.

In contrast, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it was fair game for prosecutors to use tossed-away items as evidence. The high court said suspects fleeing police had never been legally "seized" in the first place and thus had no legal "search-and-seizure" protections regarding anything they dumped.

Pennsylvania's current chief justice, Ronald D. Castille, a former Philadelphia district attorney, wrote a blistering dissent to Cappy's 1996 decision.

"Our citizens have an absolute interest in preserving their right to be free from unwarranted intrusion by police officers," Castille wrote, according to the Inquirer.

"But our citizens also have the competing right to be free from those who roam the streets, destroy the neighborhood, and threaten the fabric of our lives and the public safety with contraband and weapons on public streets and byways."

Last year, Philadelphia prosecutor Hugh J. Burns Jr., chief of the appeals unit for the D.A.'s Office, asked the state Supreme Court to rethink the issue and permit the use of discarded weapons or drugs as evidence, reported the Inquirer.

State precedent, Burns wrote, "rewards flight [by suspects] and puts the public and the police at risk."

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