Chris Brown left Wednesday’s hearing before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court with a headache and his head spinning. Apparently (as surmised from the justices’ questions), an obscure and technical procedure called Rule 620 was more important to the court than the question of whether Pennsylvania is capable of rendering justice in the case of Jordan Brown.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court was asked whether Jordan should get a new trial in the death of Kenzie Houk and her unborn son. Jordan, now 16, has been in juvenile detention since being charged hours after the 2009 shooting incident. An appeals court threw out the juvenile court verdict, calling it “plainly contrary to the evidence,” and sent the case back to a Lawrence County judge. State prosecutors appealed, leading to the high court arguments Wednesday.
From a layman’s perspective, it appears that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is avoiding the basic question of whether the state has proven Jordan’s guilt. Instead, it is focusing on whether Rule 620 (a flawed and ambiguous law) should have even landed the “hot potato” of justice for Jordan Brown on its doorstep (or for that matter, on the Superior Court’s in Pittsburgh).
As best I can tell, Rule 620 is an optional post-dispositional motion that can be filed by the defense, stating its disagreement with a judge’s decision, and preserving the defense’s issues with that decision for appeal. In an adult trial, a 620 motion is to be filed after a jury trial; after a bench trial in juvenile proceedings, a 620 motion is optional. As you recall, there was no jury involved in rendering a decision of “responsible” in Jordan’s juvenile trial, only a judge. A motion was not filed under Rule 620 because a jury was not involved and it seemed highly unlikely that Judge Hodge would reverse his ruling simply because the defense did not agree with it. Instead, the defense filed a motion under Rule 1925 of the Juvenile Appellate Procedure stating with great specificity why Judge Hodge’s ruling abused his discretion in ruling against the weight of the evidence presented by the Commonwealth.
Even though the Superior Court ruled that the 620 rule did not apply and that the defense had not waived its right to appeal Judge Hodge’s decision, the state has persisted in its contention that Rule 620 is a legal loophole that should allow the Supreme Court to evade its responsibility for assuring that justice be given to Jordan Brown.
Rule 620 is beside the point, a cynical diversion. What the people want is an honest, impartial authority to look at the evidence collected by police and determine once and for all whether it says that Jordan can be held responsible for this crime or cleared of it. Defense attorney Dennis Elisco was unable to argue any points of evidence except that the Pennsylvania State Police had failed to collect perimeter snow-footprint evidence which may have cleared Jordan as a suspect in the murders. In focusing on this obscure technicality, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court seems to be side-stepping its responsibility to the people and assuring that every citizen in Pennsylvania can be guaranteed justice.
But maybe 620 is a narrow issue with which the Supreme Court is humoring the Attorney General’s office before throwing the case back to the lower court. Remember, Jordan Brown’s quest for justice is a hot potato case.
Lawyer Dennis Elisco has more faith in the Supreme Court’s ability to render a fair decision than layman Chris Brown. The two of them are looking at the same evidence, which is the preponderance of the justices’ questions. This will be a real nail-biter to see which man is right. We will know the answer to this question only when the high court issues its decision. The court did not indicate when it would rule.
Is the Pennsylvania Supreme Court a bought political entity or a fair arbiter of what is right?
We will know this only indirectly by whether or not the court buys the state’s argument about the applicability of Rule 620 to Jordan’s case.
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