Q: If you want context, continue reading. If not, scroll to the bottom to see the actual question. Thanks in advance. In 2013 an ex-boyfriend strangled me. At the time the courts didn’t deem the offense worthy of more than a misdemeanor. He stole my car after the assault…to this day it boggles my mind that stealing my car was a greater offense (felony) than rendering me unconscious and cutting off my air supply during a pregnancy, but whatever. Anyway, felony dropped, he walked with a misdemeanor, and a few months in jail. Fast forward to 2018, the dockets indicate he’s been charged for the same type of offense again against yet another woman, yet this time the charges they are bringing forth are F2 charges for strangulation. Preliminary already happened, trial this month. Child endangerment charge added in the mix, I’m told he did this to the mom in front of her child. I won’t get my hopes up. Likely they’ll be lowered to a misdemeanor. None the less, at the risk of sounding salty, I would really like to be present to watch him get hauled away on a felony this time. Am I allowed to be there, just sitting quietly among the courtroom seats, or are DV trials private proceedings? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Yes, you can. Criminal proceedings are open to the public. Anyone can stroll through the Allegheny Courthouse on any given day and much like a shopping mall, enter a number of courtrooms and check out the wares. Homicide trials, shootings, DUI pleas, sentencings, motions to suppress evidence. It is like real court TV. You might also want to talk to the Assistant DA who is handling the case. In some cases, the prosecution is permitted to introduce evidence of prior events if there is a similar pattern of behavior by the defendant. The Allegheny County DA has done it in sex crime cases.
Q: I went to store to purchase some items. Some stranger was standing next to me at store. Next day when I went to the same store that random stranger is blaming me for pick pocketing his mobile saying I was the only one standing next to him and when I left his mobile was missing. He doesn’t have any evidence nor any eyewitness and there’s no CCTV as well. Is this evidence enough for conviction? If not, what evidence will state require for conviction? Will I be entitled for benefit of doubt in this case? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: If in fact, that is the ONLY evidence against you, and the alleged victim did not see you take the phone and can only say you were nearby, I think you have a good defense. The standard for a criminal conviction is that the state must prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The law does permit a person to be not only arrested, but convicted solely on the word of another person. However, in these situations, the person’s word must be extremely believable.
Q: The alleged “victim” in my case has not shown twice at the magistrate to testify against me. The cops are trying to put a felony on me for aggravated assault. The victim started the fight and was only in the hospital overnight. If he fails to appear, will the judge throw the case out? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: There is no such rule but since I began practicing it is a generally accepted way of operating. The only exception I have seen is where the DA can show some compelling reason.
Q: As a Commonwealth witness, can I be incarcerated indefinitely because I refuse to testify in a criminal case in Pennsylvania? The Assistant District Attorney wants to revoke bail for the other witness and have him remain in jail because he refuses to testify in a criminal case.
A: The other witness has some issues and I hope that he or she has a lawyer. It sounds like he or she is on bond for a crime and it may be a bond conditions that he or she “cooperate” with the Commonwealth. If that is the case, he or she is in a tough situation if they now wish not to testify. As for you, you are not saying here that you are on bond or you are part of the case as a co-defendant, which makes a difference. First, you need to be served with a subpoena. You should review this with your attorney to see if you may incriminate yourself by testifying. If you will incriminate yourself by testifying, the attorney may advise you invoke your 5th Amendment rights and not to testify. If you will not incriminate yourself and have no 5th Amendment protection, and you are merely a factual witness, you have no right to not testify. However, if you wish, you can tell the Assistant District Attorney that you will not testify. The ADA can ask the judge to hold you in contempt of court for not testifying which can result in you being jailed and a contempt hearing being set. It doesn’t mean it will happen. If you want to play chicken with the ADA and the Court, you can refuse to testify until the judge tells you he will hold you in contempt and incarcerate you. At THAT point, you have a big decision to make. I don’t recommend playing chicken if you do not have a 5th Amendment right to protect. Again, I would consult with a lawyer to determine your rights.
Q: Can I be arrested for not responding to a subpoena that I have not received? I have recently received a phone call about an assault case that I witnessed. I have not received the subpoena yet. The case is over 200 miles away and I can’t afford the drive. So I’m stuck in a bind. Can I be arrest for not calling the prosecuting attorney back?
A: No, you can’t be arrested for not calling the DA back. You can only be arrested by not coming to court when you have received a subpoena. Wait could till you get a subpoena then contact the DA. You might want to call the DA back now and tell her or him your situation. Perhaps if you are a valuable witness they can compensate you for travel. Perhaps the case may be postponed, you never know unless you call.
Q. Asking me while intoxicated not at the initial incident. I was a witness to a case and the officers didn’t ask me a single thing and barely wanted my ID after the incident. I was the reason it started in the first place. But a week ago while I was under the influence they asked me what happened. I finally had the chance to tell them and they seemed to be twisting it around like it was the defendants fault. Then I get a call I’m being subpoenaed to court and was told again if I remembered what I had told them while under the influence. After telling them the same thing they are making me feel as though I lied about the incident. Another officer who dropped off the subpoena told me he can give me a lie detector test in court. I feel very uncomfortable and wonder if the cop car was recorded. Could they use it in court?
A. No, police cannot make you take a polygraph test. You do not have to submit to one.Polygraph tests are not admissible in court and the police probably won’t spend the resources. Electronically recording a witness without their knowledge is not legal, so they probably didn’t do that unless they had pre approval from the court to do so. The police often mention polygraph test to put pressure on people to confesss. You need to consult with an attorney and relay the entire story and follow the advice of counsel. Please be advised that if you change your story from the one given to police originally, you could possibly face criminal charges of False Reports to Law Enforcement.
Q. Will my charge be dropped since my accuser is a fugitive on the run and won’t show up for the trial?
A: You should not plead guilty or waive your case to court without the accuser being present and ready and willing to testify. Do not be persuaded into taking a deal until you see the alleged victim slither into the courtroom AND he is willing to testify against you. Having an attorney would help.