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Commonwealth v. King

Pennsylvania Superior Court

December 14, 2021

In these consolidated appeals, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the order that dismissed the charges against Appellees based on double jeopardy and remanded for a new trial. Appellees were convicted of murder in 2006. They filed PCRA petitions, alleging the Commonwealth committed a Brady violation concerning a letter written by a witness who testified at their trial. The PCRA court agreed with Appellees that the Commonwealth committed a Brady violation and granted a new trial. The Commonwealth appealed, and the Superior Court reversed the PCRA court’s order. Appellees filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal district court, and the court denied the petition. Appellees appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The Third Circuit granted a new trial after finding that the Superior Court misapplied the Brady materiality standard. The PCRA court then granted a new trial based on the Third Circuit decision. Appellees filed a Motion to Dismiss Based on the Double Jeopardy Clauses of the Pennsylvania and the United States Constitutions. In addition to claiming the prosecution should be barred based on the Brady violation, they raised an additional Brady violation claim asserting that the Commonwealth failed to disclose the possible status of a witness as a federal confidential informant at the time of trial. The trial court granted the motion, and the Superior Court reversed. The Court ruled that “the prosecutor violated Brady by failing to turn over the letter, and we reiterate that the prosecutor’s intent and good faith are irrelevant concerning Brady material. However, we cannot conclude that the prosecution engaged in overreaching or attempted to subvert justice. Moreover, society has a compelling interest in bringing the guilty to justice, and under the facts and circumstances presented here, we cannot conclude that retrial would increase the possibility that an innocent person would be found guilty.” Therefore, double jeopardy did not bar a retrial. Moreover, the Commonwealth did not willfully or inadvertently suppress evidence of the status of the witness as an informant because the witness’s identity as an informant was unknown and kept from the Commonwealth.

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