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From Bruce A. Antkowiak, Counsel to the College and Archabbey, Director: Criminology, Law, and Society, Professor of Law, St. Vincent College
Dear Westmoreland Bar Members:
I am honored to invite you to the first event sponsored by the Saint Vincent College Criminology, Law and Society Program.
On Tuesday, November 29, at 7 p.m. in the Rogers Center at Saint Vincent, we will present a program entitled Reconciling Truth and Freedom: The Criminal Justice System and the Phenomenon of Wrongful Convictions.
Since the 1980’s, two hundred and seventy three innocent people who were investigated, tried, convicted and sentenced for the most serious of offenses have been exonerated by later DNA analysis. In about 75% of those cases, one or more witnesses incorrectly identified the person later exonerated as the perpetrator. In about 25% of those cases, the person later exonerated actually “confessed” to a crime they did not commit.
Matters involving wrongful convictions are sometimes improperly viewed as issues only important to the criminal defense bar. But for public prosecutors, the tragedy of the incarceration of the wrong person is compounded by the fact that for every day spent in the prosecution and incarceration of that innocent person, the actual perpetrator escaped the justice he was due and that society needed to bring to him. For everyone, these incidents hurt the integrity of a system into which we all invest so much and in which we all rightfully take so much pride.
The featured speaker is John Rago, professor of law at Duquesne University, chairman of the Pennsylvania Innocence Commission and preeminent expert in the field. Professor Rago will discuss the primary causes of wrongful convictions in the United States, including the legal and scientific issues involving eyewitness identification and confessions. He will also discuss some reforms proposed by his Commission that will address those critical issues.
Professor Rago will be joined by Kirk Bloodsworth, the first man in America to be exonerated from Death Row by post-conviction DNA analysis. He served almost nine years in prison awaiting the death penalty until his innocence was established. A number of years later, DNA analysis identified the actual perpetrator as a man who was serving time in the same prison as Bloodsworth. Mr. Bloodsworth has since testified before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees and is largely credited for the passage of significant federal legislation bearing his name that funds DNA testing around the nation.
The event is free and open to the public. Please call 724-805-2177 to reserve your seat (seating is limited).
Please accept an invitation to the 2011 PBA Zone 6 YLD Caravan. PBA Zone 6 consists of Westmoreland, Fayette, Washington, and Greene Counties. This year the event is on Tuesday December 6 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. in the Meadow Lanes VIP Party Room, Meadows Casino, Racetrack Road, Washington, PA. There will be snacks, beverages, and bowling for all young lawyers in those counties. Specific support for the event is provided by the PBA, FCBA, and WBA. Please let me know if you will be able to attend. Thanks. I hope to see you there.
PBA YLD Zone 6 – Chair
HARRISBURG — The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania today joined state and national veterans’ groups in seeking volunteers to assist former servicemen and servicewomen who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille and Justice Seamus P. McCaffery joined Michael Moreland of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and representatives of Robert Morris University at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center in outlining plans to recruit mentors in support of the state Judiciary’s expanding number of Veterans Courts. Judges in those courts assign mentors to provide support and guidance to veterans caught up in the court system who are struggling with drug/alcohol, mental health and other difficulties. Pennsylvania currently has eight Veterans Courts in operation. Three additional counties have announced plans to form Veterans Courts, and at least four more courts are expected to open in 2012.
As part of the recruitment drive, it was announced today that an online training program — believed to be the first of its kind in the nation — has been launched to enhance access and increase the number of people wanting to become trained as mentors. The program was developed by AOPC staff and is being hosted at no cost to the state court system by Robert Morris University, which also has agreed to manage the site.
“Our nation has a commitment to provide whatever help we can to the brave men and women who have served our country,” Chief Justice Castille said. “This new online training program will make it easy and convenient for veterans to be part of a program to come to the aid of their fellow veterans who encounter difficulties when they return home from service. I am enormously grateful for the work of Robert Morris University in helping us develop something for Pennsylvanians that ultimately could serve as a role model for veterans’ courts nationwide.
From the Court Administrator's Office
All attorneys and Guardian Ad Litems on the court-appointed lists in juvenile delinquency, Children’s Bureau, termination of parental rights, and adoption cases must, beginning on January 1, 2011, annually receive three (3) hours of CLE credits devoted to juvenile delinquency court, the Child Protective Services Law on abuse, or the Adoption Act on terminations and adoptions. Proof of these CLE credits must be submitted to the Family Court Administrator.
Monday, October 31, 2011
A new mobile app allows smartphone users to search for crimes people have committed in Pennsylvania, from illegal parking to murder.
Docket In Your Pocket, which is available for iPhones, iPads and Android devices and sells for $2.99 on all platforms, allows users to search by name through a database of 32.5 million court records dating to 2000.
The records, drawn from the state judiciary's database of court dockets, include information about minor offenses, such as traffic tickets and noise violations, in addition to robberies, drug charges, assaults, rapes and murders. The app's inventor, Matt Haindfield, 40, said the app may be useful to singles for vetting dates and to parents for checking up on baby sitters.
The app also includes data about civil disputes of $12,000 or less, allowing users to search to see if, for example, a company was sued for violating a contract, Mr. Haindfield said. He is working county by county to make civil disputes of more than $12,000 available.
Mr. Haindfield, a civil litigation attorney in Iowa, said he thought of the app when he suspected a witness in a case to be lying about his criminal background. During a break in the witness's deposition, Mr. Haindfield attempted to search for the witness's criminal records on his iPhone.
"When operating in the mobile environment, it was very difficult, almost impossible, to get the information I needed," he said. Unable to find an existing app, he originally devised Docket in Your Pocket to be a tool for lawyers before realizing its potential general applications.
He started with Pennsylvania because the state's criminal data was already easily available and because the state has a large population of smartphone users, Mr. Haindfield said. He plans to launch similar apps in each state over the next few months, starting with other states with large populations of smartphone users and accessible court data, such as California, he said.
After that, he plans to release a "master app" that will search criminal records in all states, and possibly create similar software for other platforms in the future, such as a browser-based application, he said.
"We do have some ambitious development goals," he said.
On Tuesday, November 8, the voters of Westmoreland County will vote on the question of whether Common Pleas Court Judges Debra A. Pezze and Richard E. McCormick, Jr., should be retained for additional ten-year terms.
The Westmoreland Bar Association recently conducted a poll of its participating members to determine how the lawyers, who practice before these judges, answer the question of whether these two judges should be retained. Individual members were asked to vote either “in favor of” or “in opposition to” retention.
The results show that Westmoreland Bar Association attorneys overwhelmingly support both Judge Pezze and Judge McCormick, Jr., with a substantial majority “in favor of” retention in the November election. WBA President Mike Stewart announced the results as follows:
• Judge McCormick, Jr. – 93%
• Judge Pezze – 96%.
“Member polls regarding the retention of local judges are an important part of our mission of community service and
education,” said Attorney Stewart. “Our goal in publicizing these results is to help voters be better informed when retaining judges.”
By law, an incumbent judge can seek a new term in office on a yes-no retention basis in the general election. The election is non-partisan and non-political.
For additional information on the retention process, contact the Pennsylvania Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
Judge Caruso will not be hearing civil or orphans’ court motions on Friday, November 11, 2011, or Friday, November 25, 2011, since the Courthouse will be closed for Veterans Day and Thanksgiving holidays, respectively. Counsel should make arrangements to present motions on prior or subsequent Fridays.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has established a new Twitter feed to increase online ease and access to its rulings. The specially designated site will provide instant notification of the online posting of most Supreme Court information, such as orders, new rules, opinions and concurring and dissenting statements written by the justices. Anyone can sign-up to receive alerts from the Court’s Twitter page, which can be accessed at twitter.com/SupremeCtofPA. “Follow Us On Twitter” links also will appear on the state court system’s Web site to take interested parties directly to the page.
“The manner and pace in which the Commonwealth’s citizens expect to receive information from their government is changing rapidly,” said Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin, who has spearheaded the move in behalf of the entire Court. “This is a logical extension of an ongoing commitment to enhance the delivery of court information and services in an efficient and cost-effective manner.” All new rulings posted to the Pennsylvania Judiciary Web site will be linked to a Tweet, and available immediately on a follower’s personal home page.
The new service complements and expands the Pennsylvania Judiciary’s online offerings by maximizing the convenience of the Internet through cell phones and other devices. The new service will not be set up for communicating with the Court. Those who have questions or wish to report a problem or concern about the state’s judicial system may continue to do so through the Public Comments section of the Pennsylvania Judiciary’s Web site at www.pacourts.us/Public+Comments/Default.htm
Speaker-Carrie Peters, Sentencing Policy Specialist-Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing
The Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing will be presenting a 3-hour seminar in Judge Hathaway’s courtroom on Thursday, November 17, 2011 from 12:45-4:00 pm. The seminar will be offered by the Commission. Attorneys wishing to receive CLE credit will be provided a CLE Request Form indicating the fee scale and must directly return the form along with their payment to the Pennsylvania CLE Board.
This seminar will provide an overview of sentencing guidelines, statutes and policies related to sentencing (CIP,SIP, credit, mandatory minimums etc.) as well as an overview of updates to statutes regarding sentencing and corrections (RRRI, county/parole/county reentry, aggregation, place of confinement, etc.).
The course provider, the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, requires that attendees must register in advance of the seminar. You can register by contacting Leslie Uncapher: phone 724-853-2140 or fax 724-853-2207 before November 15, 2011.
Pursuant to the court appointed attorney guidelines, court appointed counsel is asked to review the current guidelines stating, “The Court Administrator will make copies of documents for court appointed counsel without charge. Copying costs will not be reimbursed unless approved by the Court”. Please give advanced notice of at least three days if this service is necessary. If you need a copy of the current guidelines, please contact the Court Administrator’s Office, Danielle Frye, at 724.830.3393.