One issue that comes up in Criminal Defense cases is assessing when the government may use hearsay evidence at a Preliminary Hearing. As previously discussed, a preliminary hearing offers the defendant with his first opportunity to challenge the evidence against him. child endangerment At that hearing a district justice must determine whether it is more likely than not that the accused committed the crimes that he is charged with. If the government meets that burden, then the charges are bound over to the Court of Common Pleas. Otherwise the charges are dismissed. Recently, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania found that the government may use hearsay testimony at a Preliminary Hearing. This ruling struck a huge blow to criminal defendants since the admission of hearsay evidence makes it significantly more difficult for a criminal defendant to challenge the case against him and for his defense attorney to cross examine witnesses.
Before we continue, let’s discuss what hearsay is in the context of Criminal Defense. Hearsay is defined as an out of court statement offered t prove the truth of the matter being asserted. What that simply means is a statement made out of court (an example of this is Ms. Smith told the police that “Mx. X shot Mr. Y with his gun.” tampering with evidence The statement made out of court is that Mr. X shot Mr. Y. This statement is hearsay and would typically be inadmissible unless Mrs. Smith came to the Preliminary Hearing to testify. The importance of her coming to testify is that a criminal defense attorney would have the chance to cross examine Mrs. Smith and to ask her why she said Mr. X shot Mr. Y and how she knows that the shooting did in fact occur. The new rules in Pennsylvania for the preliminary hearing now permits an officer to testify at a Preliminary Hearing that Mrs. Smith saw Mr. X shoot Mr. Y.