Pa. judges move to streamline preliminary hearings

    Proposal would eliminate the need for victims of property theft to appear. Preliminary hearings would depend on the testimony of police, although crime victims would testify at trial.

    Two Pennsylvania Supreme Court judges are pushing a plan advocates said could help crime victims, improve the criminal justice system, and increase convictions.

    Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said he supports the proposal to let police officers testify at preliminary hearings, instead of requiring those who say they were victims of property crimes to testify.

    “You don’t have to go to the preliminary hearing to say, ‘The guy who was caught by the police with the downspout from my gutter, I didn’t give him my permission to take my gutter,’ ” said Williams.

    In some cases, there is a disagreement about whether one person gave another the right to, for example use their car, said Michael Engle, the president of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

    “Unfortunately the proposed rule, as it’s stated to work across the board for all cases like that, would erode a defendant’s constitutional rights with respect to the ability to confront their accusers at a critical stage of the criminal justice process,” said Engle.

    Victims of property theft would still have to testify at trial.

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