Pennsylvania Prosecutor Ignores Court Order, Judge Suppresses Evidence
Posted in General on January 12, 2015
Over my many years as a criminal defense lawyer, I have found that I do not always agree with a judge’s decision; but the law is what the judge says it is, and people must comply with the court orders. The rules also apply to everyone, both normal people and lawyers, both defense lawyers and prosecutors. A Pennsylvania court recently reiterated that even a prosecutor must follow a court order issued by a judge, and the failure to follow an order can result in severe penalties. The prosecutor is lucky that the judge did not impose a fine or even a sentence of incarceration for contempt of court. Many people that violate a court order, such as people that violate a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order, are sentenced to serve time in jail.
Pennsylvania Drug Delivery Cases and Confidential Informants
Many Pennsylvania drug delivery and possession with intent to deliver cases are based upon testimony from confidential informants (CI). The informants are often the star witnesses in such cases as they testify about buying drugs from the defendant. Prosecutors are often reluctant to disclose the identity of the confidential informant. In a recent felony drug case out of Philadelphia County, a prosecutor refused to disclose the identity of the informant through what is called discovery. The criminal defense attorney filed a motion to compel or force the prosecutor to provide that information. The judge agreed with the drug defense lawyer and ordered the prosecutor to provide the identity of the CI to the defense.
Despite the court order demanding disclosure, the prosecutor refused to provide the information to the defense. The judge held that the prosecutor had failed to comply with the court order and thereby issued an order that prevented the prosecution from using any evidence that had been obtained via execution of a search warrant at the man’s upcoming trial. Without the search warrant evidence, the prosecution basically had no chance of winning at trial.
Appeal of Suppression Order to Pennsylvania Superior Court
The prosecution appealed the judge’s decision to suppress evidence based upon the failure to comply with the court order. In the published opinion called Commonwealth v. Jordan, the Superior Court noted that the dismissal of charges as a sanction should only be considered “where the actions of the Commonwealth are egregious and where demonstrable prejudice will be suffered by the defendant if the charges are not dismissed.” The court then stated that the “prosecutor’s actions could not have been more blatant.” The Superior Court upheld the trial judge’s decision and felt that the extreme punishment imposed upon the prosecutor was warranted under the facts and circumstances here. The Pennsylvania appellate court also stated that “a prosecutor is bound to adhere to orders issued by a court of competent jurisdiction.” I often tell clients that the law is what the judge says it is, and if I disagree with the judge’s decision, I can appeal it. I cannot simply ignore it and neither can prosecutors.