Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

Legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus.

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A Fair Trial for Poplawski. Back Talk Requested.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | April 16, 2009

Posted by Cliff Tuttle

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffery Manning imposed a “partial gag order” upon people involved in the trial of Richard Poplawski. While they are not prohibited from all speech, they cannot make statements that will have a substantial likelihood of affecting the legal process.

Meanwhile, Governor Rendell, in remarks advocating new gun control legislation to ban assault weapons like the AK-47 recovered from the scene of the Poplawski standoff with police and making it a point of not commenting on whether the prosecutors should seek the death penalty, stated: “I would sign that death warrant without a moment’s thought,” according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

Now, Judge Manning doesn’t have the power to order the Governor not to discuss the Poplawski case, and he didn’t attempt to do so. However, Assistant Public Defender Lisa G. Middleman quickly protested that the Governor’s comment was exactly the kind of out of court statement that threatens the ability of our judicial system to give her client a fair trial.

Perhaps. But the trial won’t be happening for a while and whatever impact such a statement might have had on the eve of trial will not be present six months from today. There is no way that public comment of this kind is going to stop, gag order or no gag order. There have been other cases in recent times that have attracted equal publicity and courts have managed to pick juries composed of people who pledged to consider only the evidence presented at trial and convict only if the evidence presented indicated guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There are a number of well-tried ways (aside from gag orders) for courts to address pretrial publicity. If the courts utilize these protections, and there is no reason to think otherwise, Poplawski will have a fair trial and any conviction will be affirmed on appeal.

Others may say that the unique circumstances of the crimes, the massive publicity and the outpouring of sympathy for the three officers and their families will make it impossible for a fair trial to happen anywhere at any any time. This assumes that individual jurors cannot overcome exposure to publicity in such an emotionally charged case. This is a question every potential juror must answer for himself or herself. Could you render a verdict in such a case without being influenced by these factors? Would you be afraid of the consequences of voting for acquittal if you thought the evidence for conviction did not sufficient, beyond a reasonable doubt?

Back Talk Requested.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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