After losing a jury trial in York County, a client came looking for help at van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim. The trial hinged on a complaining witness’s allegation that our client inappropriately touched her. The complaining witness against our client filed a workers' compensation claim relating to the allegation and received close to $30,000. This claim was memorialized in a letter to the District Attorney's Office, who never turned the letter over to the defense until after trial.
Our attorney Abigail Cohen represented the client through post-sentence motions and appeal, culminating in argument before the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The Court found that the government’s failure to disclose evidence material to the case was a constitutional violation that warranted a new trial.
On July 26, 2023, the Superior Court reversed the conviction and issued an opinion finding that “depriving the defense of the opportunity to cross-examine [the complainant] about this [workers’ compensation] claim and apprise the jury of her possible motive to fabricate her allegations undermines confidence in the outcome of trial.”
In evaluating Attorney Cohen’s claim, the Pennsylvania Superior Court discussed the landmark case on prosecutor discovery obligations, Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The Court explored the three components of a Brady violation as applied to our client. First, the letter was favorable to our client as impeachment evidence because it could have been used to establish motive of the complainant to exaggerate or fabricate her claims against our client. Second, the Government was in exclusive possession of the letter and our client did not have equal access to it, as the Government withheld the letter until after trial. Finally, the letter was material because the complainant could have been cross-examined about her financial motive, since the complainant’s credibility was a central issue for the jury to explore before reaching a verdict.
In finalizing their opinion, the Superior Court found, “[t]here is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the case could have been different if [our client] had been provided the letter before trial.”
If you or a loved one need help, before, during or after trial, call van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim. We have dedicated lawyers ready to help with whatever legal issue you’re facing.