Courts

NYTTEND / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The number of vacancies on the federal trial court in the Western District of Pennsylvania grew to five Friday, when U.S. District Court Judge David Cercone entered senior status. The court is authorized to have a total of 10 judges.

 

Pennsylvania Courts

Across Pennsylvania Tuesday, voters will choose judges and justices in a total of 370 races at all levels of the state court system.

 

Many voters find it challenging to choose which judicial candidates to support, according to Maureen Lally-Green, a former judge on the Pennsylvania Superior Court and the dean of Duquesne School of Law.

 

Matt Rourke / AP

For decades in the 20th Century, the U.S. treated children differently than adults in the criminal court system -- experts at the time believed kids were inherently more capable of rehabilitation. 

Matt Slocum / AP

Prosecutors in suburban Philadelphia plan to retry Bill Cosby after his two-week sexual assault trial ended Saturday in a mistrial, with the jury unable to reach a unanimous decision on any of the three counts. Cosby is accused of sexually assaulting a woman at his home near Philadelphia in 2004. The entertainer says what happened was consensual.

Some key things to know about the retrial:

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WHEN WILL IT BE?

Allegheny County Police

A Pennsylvania judge has dismissed drug and weapons charges stemming from a 2013 case against two men who were later charged in an ambush at a Wilkinsburg cookout that killed five adults and an unborn child last year.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David Cashman on Monday granted a dismissal request from defense attorneys for 29-year-old Cheron Shelton and 27-year-old Robert Thomas along with a third defendant in the drug case, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Final Cosby Jury Selections Made In Allegheny County

May 24, 2017
Gene J. Puskar / AP

**UPDATED: 6:12 p.m. Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Half of the new jury pool being questioned Wednesday in Bill Cosby's sexual assault case said they've formed an opinion on his guilt or innocence, and another knows Cosby or his family.

All 12 jurors and six alternates have been chosen this week for the case starting June 5 in suburban Philadelphia. Those who have opinions weren't necessarily disqualified if they convinced the judge they could put that aside and focus on the evidence.

Cosby's lawyers have complained about prosecutors striking two black women.

Defense Raises Race Bias In Cosby Jury Selection Process

May 24, 2017
Gene J. Puskar / AP

With just one black person seated among the first 11 jurors chosen for Bill Cosby's sexual assault trial, defense lawyers are crying foul and accusing prosecutors of trying to systematically keep blacks off the jury.

The lawyers returned to court on Wednesday in Pittsburgh to pick a 12th juror and six alternates. Cosby arrived Wednesday just before 8 a.m.

For now, Judge Steven O'Neill has rejected the race bias argument.

Matthew Apgar / The Chronicle via AP

The exposure of wrongful convictions began in 1989, and it upended the idea that guilty verdicts were always trustworthy. When there’s a wrongful conviction, what has to happen to get a court to exonerate someone?

On this week’s episode of 90.5 WESA’s Criminal Injustice podcast, University of Pittsburgh law professor and show host David Harris talked to Marissa Boyers Bluestine, legal director for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project.

United Artists / Library of Congress

If you’re a registered voter or have a driver’s license, odds are, you’re eligible for jury duty. But just because you’re called, doesn’t mean you’ll serve.

Research from the Jury Sunshine Project in North Carolina shows that some people get dismissed from the jury pool a lot more often than others.

On this week’s episode of 90.5 WESA’s Criminal Injustice podcast, University of Pittsburgh law professor and show host David Harris talked to Wake Forest School of Law professor Ron Wright, who’s finding those exclusions make a big difference in the outcome of some cases.

Lawmakers Push Changes For Judicial Discipline

Mar 23, 2016
Brian Turner / Flickr

  State senators on Tuesday urged their colleagues to advance their plans to change how judicial conduct cases are handled in Pennsylvania.

A proposed amendment to the state constitution would overhaul how the commonwealth’s court system metes out discipline for its justices and judges. The issue is particularly relevant this week, after the second resignation of a state Supreme Court justice over his exchange of offensive emails with prosecutors and others. 

The entire affair has led lawmakers to scrutinize the ways Pennsylvania’s court system judges its own.

Pennsylvanians owe $1 billion in unpaid fines and court costs, and a state lawmaker wants the scofflaws to pay up or lose their driver’s license and have any wages and lottery winnings attached.

State Senator Mike Stack (D-Philadelphia) has introduced two bills to pressure individuals to pay the fines, fees and delinquent costs they owe.  Under SB 918 PennDOT would “suspend your driver’s license.  If your driver’s license was about to expire, they wouldn’t renew it,” said Stack.

Currently most Pennsylvanians who want to see court records and documents have to look at them on microfilm or microfiche.

“We’ve always got to look at ways we can modernize government,” says State Senator Matt Smith (D-Allegheny) as he noted Governor Corbett’s signing into law his court modernizing proposal that he says will save tax dollars and give the public easier access to court records.

The Pennsylvania Judiciary has launched a new statewide computer system that will record performance data in problem-solving courts. 

The “Problem-Solving Adult and Juvenile Courts Information System,” or PAJCIS, will allow the commonwealth’s 95 problem-solving courts, which cover topics such as drugs, DUI, veterans and mental health, better manage and review program costs and efficiency.

Joe Gratz / Flickr

The annual state Supreme Court’s State of the Commonwealth Courts report finds the two biggest issues facing Pennsylvania’s court system are financial shortfalls and misperceptions about the system.

A Greensburg man who prosecutors say orchestrated the group torture and murder of a mentally disabled woman three years ago in Greensburg was sentenced to death Thursday.

Ricky Smyrnes, 26, organized five others in holding 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty captive in a dingy apartment for more than two days as she was tormented, humiliated and finally killed by people she initially believed were her friends, prosecutors say.