Sunday, April 19, 2015

FBI admits it overstated expert evidence for over two decades.

The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.
Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’slargest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.
The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.

Wow, simply wow.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Sexual assault cases and disclosure of victims and alleged offenders.

Pocono Mountain Regional Police arrested a 19-year-old Pocono Summit man on April 10 and charged him with statutory sexual assault, according to a police report sent out on Friday.

The press has taken a position that it will not reveal the names of sexual assault victims in news stories, but it has no such prohibition on the names of the alleged offenders. Alleged sexual assault offenders, who have yet to be convicted of a crime, face severe ostracization from the rest of society, including loss of employment. While first amendment issues obviously prevent a prohibition on revealing the names of those involved in sexual assault cases, it would be nice if the press would consider the privacy of those who have not been convicted of such a crime from being released to the public.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Monroe County Family Law Section - 4.10.15 topics covered.

Today was the first monthly lunch meeting of the Monroe County Family Law Section. We covered some interesting topics and had some great food.

Here is the link to a newspaper article about the New York case we discussed at today's lunch - 

Thanks again to everyone for attending. The next lunch will be May 8th, 2015 at noon at the Willowtree. If anyone has any ideas for topics to discuss feel free to post here or email me and I can prep copies of cases or handouts. Feel free to invite any other family law attorneys who practice in Monroe County, membership in the Monroe County bar is not required, nor is physical office presence in Monroe. It's open to anyone who shows up at the Courthouse for any of the varied family law cases. 

Many thanks to the Monroe County Bar Association for helping set this up, as well as to the Willowtree Inn for hosting us.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Monroe County Family Law Section

Tomorrow, April 10th, at noon at the Willowtree Inn, 601 Ann Street, Stroudsburg, PA 18360 will be the first lunch for the Monroe County Family Law Section. Any attorney practicing in family law in Monroe County is invited to attend. Attorneys working in divorce, custody, adoption, dependency, support - all are welcome.

The first meeting will be an organizational one to set up the meetings going forward. Masters and conciliators are welcome to attend this initial meeting.

I have also started a google groups listserve for us which can be accessed at It is a private group so you must be approved for membership, just shoot me an email at if you're interested. We've had good success with this format at the Criminal Law Section meetings so I hope this one is as popular.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Medical marijuana in Pennsylvania: Eventually...

HARRISBURG (AP) — Prosecutors and police are telling Pennsylvania legislators strict regulatory controls are critical in any medical marijuana law to ensure that it doesn't compound the problem of recreational marijuana use.
Spokesmen for three law-enforcement groups shared that message in testimony Wednesday before what was billed as a fact-finding hearing of the House Health and Judiciary committees.
Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, speaking for the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, says legislators must ensure that the right people are prescribing, distributing and receiving any medical form of marijuana.
James Walsh of the state lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, says police agencies are concerned that Pennsylvania may endorse the use of marijuana as a pain relief while the federal government says it has "no current medical use."

Not surprising that the law enforcement agencies came out in favour of "strict controls." I'm looking for confirmation but it doesn't appear there was anyone on the other side of the issue before the Judiciary Committee. Medical Marijuana is nearly a foregone conclusion. The only questions is will PA have a disastrous system similar to our ridiculous state liquor store system or will the Commonwealth embrace freedom and individual choice.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The structure of the PA court system

Former MDJ Whitesell* of Mountainhome, PA, who retired last year, would often offer an impromptu description of the PA Court system to litigants waiting in his courtroom when the parties weren't ready to proceed or when attorneys were outside the courtroom making last minute negotiations. His 15 minute primer on the system was a comfortable way to introduce laymen to the process and probably eased a lot of stress. I don't know if it was ever recorded but it should have been and offered for viewing in primary schools.

Taking the cue from him, the Court system breaks down with the MDJ Courts (Magisterial District Courts) forming the first order of Courts where a litigant (whether civil or criminal in nature) enters the justice system. Civil cases with relatively low-dollar value claims start here, as do almost all criminal cases for a preliminary hearing. MDJ Courts are not a court of record, meaning no official court reporter appears to keep track of what everyone says, but it is not uncommon to find one hired by either party to appear.

Should the case not be resolved at the MDJ level it proceeds to the Court of Common Pleas. Here is where civil cases seeking significant monetary awards start, and where appeals from MDJ civil cases proceed. Criminal cases that were bound over also appear here. Almost all Family Law cases begin at the Court of Common Pleas.This is where parties are often entitled to a jury trial, although in some cases there are mandatory arbitration civil cases and some criminal cases are bench trials - meaning the Judge takes the place of the Jury in addition to his/her normal role.

Should either party be dissatisfied with the result at the Court of Common Pleas the case proceeds to an appellate court. This gets somewhat complicated  as there are actually two different branches of appellate courts. The first is the Superior Court, this is where most appeals are directed to. Criminal appeals, civil cases involving individuals, and many other types of cases are directed here. The second is the Commonwealth Court, this is where only specialized types of appeals are directed to. For example, cases involving actions against or by government agencies go here. More on this specialized court at a later date.

Finally, there is the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Appeals from either the Superior Court or the Commonwealth Court wind up here. Unlike the lower appellate courts, however, one must first ask permission to get to the Supreme Court. Generally the case has to involve a novel matter that hasn't been previously litigated in Pennsylvania for the Court to hear the case.

In some cases the matter can be further appealed to the federal level, which is a topic for another day as this is quite rare.