Allegheny County court order safeguards trial evidence

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In the wake of a Washington County judge being criminally indicted for allegedly taking cocaine submitted as evidence in cases before him, Allegheny County's criminal court on Tuesday initiated new rules to ensure that doesn't happen here.

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, the administrative judge for the criminal division, said the order codifies what has always happened in the Grant Street courthouse.

"It raised the issue," Judge Manning said of the arrest of Washington County Common Pleas Judge Paul Pozonsky, who is charged with theft, drug possession, obstruction and a violation of state ethics laws. "We have not addressed it [before] because we've been doing it this way as long as I could remember."

Mr. Pozonsky, who retired last year during the investigation, asked in August 2011 to see drug evidence during a pretrial hearing. Later, investigators found that some of the bags that had previously contained a controlled substance had been tampered with -- that evidence seals were broken and some of the drugs had been replaced with baking soda. Mr. Pozonsky's DNA was found, as well.

The new order in Allegheny County specifies that all evidence entered into a case by any party shall remain in the custody of that party throughout the proceedings, as well as appeals. It is never to be left in the custody of the court, its officers or staff.

"The court doesn't have the facility or the ability to be the custodian," Judge Manning said. "It becomes too cumbersome."

In addition, the order spells out that firearms, controlled substances, money or explosives are never to be taken into the custody of the court, or be given to a jury to review during deliberations.

Judge Manning said he also will make a recommendation to the state Supreme Court criminal rules committee to create a standing order across Pennsylvania for how to deal with evidence.

region

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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