My clients were charged with several offenses by a State Police Officer on Interstate 95. The charges ranged from operating a commercial vehicle without a CDL to not having an inspection sticker (it was a farm vehicle). After speaking with my clients and the officer, we decided a not guilty plea was the best route forward. I was confident that the officer would not be able to meet his burden of proof with respect to all of the charges.
My first client was called before the bench, we entered the not guilty plea to all four charges.
The judge asked the officer for his testimony regarding the stop and what led to the charges. The officer began to describe the stop and why he issued the citations. As part of his evidence, the officer attempted to tell the judge what the driver of the vehicle told him. I immediately objected because the driver was not the person currently before the bench being charged so any statements he made to the officer were inadmissible as hearsay. The judge sustained my objection. Frustrated, the officer continued to present his case including attempting to introduce some documents he had as a result of the stop. Unfortunately for him, he was the person who created these documents and he hadn’t subpoenaed the people who had created them. Again I objected to the evidence and again the judge ruled in my client’s favor. At the conclusion of the officer’s testimony, and after a couple of clarifying questions on cross, I made my Motion to Strike (dismiss the charges). The judge agreed with my argument that the officer had failed to meet his burden of proof and had not proven any of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. My client walked away with no court fees, no fines, and most importantly no convictions on his record.
Now the second client comes up to the bench. Same officer, little different story this time. This client was the driver so everything he told the officer at the stop could come into evidence and did. Not to worry though, when the officer again offered the documents into evidence, my objection was the same…they were hearsay…and the judge agreed. Again visibly frustrated, the officer concluded his case. I again made a Motion to Strike the evidence, this time though it was because although the officer may have proven some violations of the law, he neglected to put the necessary evidence before the court to prove the vehicle in question was one that required a CDL and without that proof there was no way for my client to be guilty of driving a vehicle that required a CDL.
Ultimately, today’s cases were proof positive that in some situations, even when you think the deck is stacked against you, the Commonwealth always has the burden of proof in a criminal case. At the end of the day, my client’s were able to walk out of that courthouse and go about their day with nothing more than the inconvenience of having to go the courthouse to enforce their rights and make the prosecution put on a case.