What Is Due Process?

The Due Process Clause of the federal and state constitutions protects you and your loved one against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which you are charged. In what context does the Due Process Clause get tested?

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The Due Process Clause focuses on the type of evidence and the rules of evidence used at trial to prove every fact/element of a crime charged.

If in a murder trial, for example, the only evidence of a defendant's participation in the shooting is a statement of a witness taken at the time of the shooting, who then "goes south" and does not adopt the same statement at trial. There are no other eye witnesses, ballistics or expert evidence linking the guns to the defendant, and there is no victim to say who shot them.

The due process inquiry of sufficiency of the evidence after a verdict is whether the record evidence could reasonably support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, with all inferences in favor of the Commonwealth as the verdict winner.

It is here in the due process discussion that the courts look to experienced trial counsel and the "great engine of cross examination" which furnishes the best method by which the witness's motives for changing his or her story, from that given previously, may be fully and thoroughly explored.

While the prior inconsistent statement can be used as substantive evidence at trial, the court must look to see if that statement alone is sufficient for a fact-finder (the jury) to convict a defendant.

In this mind set, the appellate court looks at other evidence a defendant puts forth and whether such evidence was properly precluded by the trial judge.

For example, in the same murder trial, if a defense witness to the shooting admits to participation in the shooting, but is not charged, which admission exonerates or clears you, that statement should be admitted too at trial as substantive evidence.

A confession is a statement against interest under Pa.R.E. 804(b)(3), as it meets the rule's two conditions for admissibility:

(1) the statement subjected the declarant to criminal liability, and

(2) at the time of the statements making there were corroborating circumstances which clearly indicate the trustworthiness of the statement.

The proper use of the rules of evidence at trial is imperative for protection and preservation of your due process rights. As experienced trial counsel we know the substantive Rules of Evidence, to what evidence objections should be made, and how to preserve appellate issues.

Understanding what purpose each piece of evidence serves, how to use the rules of evidence in your favor, and how to secure proper jury instructions are tasks experienced trial counsel should undertake. Strong, confident representation is only accomplished by experienced defense lawyers who know the rules and are aggressive in handling the cases.

Attorney Richard Hark has written extensively on the topic and is respected for his insight into the subject. See the Articles and Publications page of this web site to review the various topics of which he has written and which may touch upon your issue of criminal law.

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