The Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers wishes to express its dismay and disgust with last Sunday's article "Gun cases tossed out, suspects walk out," which criticized the performance of Common Pleas Court Judge Paula Patrick, who presides over Philadelphia's gun-court program. Noting that Judge Patrick had suppressed evidence in just 27 of more than 1,100 prosecutions because of serious constitutional violations by the police, The Inquirer suggested both directly and by inference that such dismissals were wrong. The reasons given for such a suggestion were twofold: First, that gun violence is a serious problem in Philadelphia; and second, that the District Attorney's Office was upset.
As for the first reason, all crime is a serious problem. But we have constitutional law in place to monitor the conduct of the police who investigate criminal activity for a reason, and we as a society charge our judges with the solemn duty to decide when the constitutional boundaries are crossed. Nothing changes this dynamic because the subject of the investigation has to do with guns. As for the second rationale, courts are not designed to function as rubber stamps for the often wrongheaded, politically motivated actions of prosecutors whose aim is to intimidate the courts if they are unable to prevail on the law. Whining to the media in order to intimidate is clearly not part of that legal process, despite the fact that historically such a tactic has been employed by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.
The Inquirer's choice to vilify Judge Patrick for not being a rubber stamp for the District Attorney's Office is the height of journalistic hypocrisy, especially considering the large numbers of Philadelphia police officers who have recently been either arrested or dismissed from the force for their unlawful or unconstitutional conduct. Patrick is one of the hardest working, brightest judges currently sitting in the Philadelphia criminal court system. She is also one of the most productive judges in terms of disposing of cases assigned to her.
Michael J. Engle
Bernard L. Siegel
Chairman, Philadelphia chapter