Admittedly, criminal court is not something most people visit every day, and so policies and procedures of the District Attorney’s Office may be unknown to most of us. An issue has arisen, however, which I think the electorate needs to know about. In 2016, Pennsylvania Courts ruled in Commonwealth v. Ricker that the Commonwealth could put on the preliminary hearing case with only hearsay evidence. Generally, hearsay is not admissible because the defendant does not have the ability to confront the witness against him/her. (6th Amendment). After this case came out, district attorney’s offices all over the Commonwealth began to bring only the Trooper or Police Officer to tell the court what various witnesses had said, instead of the actual witnesses, and the magistrates bound the cases over for trial. Imagine my surprise when I attended a preliminary hearing for a defendant who had attempted to strangle his girlfriend. The domestic assault survivor was required to attend the preliminary hearing to testify against her abuser. When asked about why she had to testify at the preliminary hearing considering Ricker, the Lycoming County Assistant District Attorney said, “Well, it’s our office policy that domestic assault survivors are required to testify at the preliminary hearing so that we can make sure they will testify at trial if needed.” “So, a test.”, I said. I wondered if they make abused children testify at preliminary hearings, too, to make sure they will testify at trial. In other words, if the defendant is charged with murder, or burglary, or drug dealing, or theft, the Commonwealth will bring only the police officer to testify to what the alleged victim said. But if it is a Domestic Assault survivor, they will make her testify to prove herself before she ever gets to court. - Sent in by local attorney Mary Kilgus, who has announced she is running for Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas in Lycoming County this Spring, 2019.
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