AFTER-DISCOVERED ALLEGATIONS IN FEDERAL INDICTMENT THAT ARRESTING OFFICER FALSIFIED REPORTS IN UNRELATED CASE INSUFFICIENT TO GRANT NEW TRIAL
The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v, Griffin, No. 528 EDA 2015 (April 8, 2016), holding that it was improper for the trial court to grant Griffin a new trial after Griffin discovered that the officer integrally involved in his arrest was named in a Federal civil rights complaint alleging he falsified a police report and was also named in, but was not a target of, a Federal Indictment, charging six officers with numerous federal crimes, including charges under the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act.
On September 3, 2013, Officer Stephen Dmytryk conducted a “controlled buy” drug transaction between Griffin and a Confidential Informant (“CI”). On September 15, 2013, Officer Dmytryk, conducted a second controlled buy between Griffin and a CI.
The Commonwealth charged Griffin with Possession of a Controlled Substance With Intent to Deliver (“PWID”) and related drug offenses. He proceeded to a bench trial on July 9, 2014. Officer Dmytryk testified at trial. The parties also stipulated to the testimony of Officer Kuhn regarding his arrest of Griffin, as well as the testimonies of Officer Waters and Sergeant Torpey regarding their observations. The trial court convicted Griffin of the PWID charge resulting from the September 15, 2013 transaction, and found him not guilty of all other charges. On July 9, 2014, the trial court sentenced Griffin to three years’ reporting probation.
Griffin subsequently filed a Post-Sentence Motion for a New Trial based on after-discovered evidence, pursuant to Pa.R.Crim.P. 720(C). He offered the following documents as after-discovered evidence: (1) A federal indictment unsealed on July 27, 2014, charging six Philadelphia police officers with numerous federal crimes, including charges under the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act. One paragraph in the indictment alleged that [Officer Dmytryk] falsified a police report in an 2011 criminal case unrelated to Griffin; (2) A federal civil rights complaint filed against The City of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Police Officer Dmytryk, Badge #1851 containing an allegation that Officer Dmytryk included false allegations and material misrepresentations of fact in an affidavit of probable cause supporting a search warrant; (3) A Philadelphia Inquirer article from August 1, 2014, quoting the plaintiff in the civil rights complaint wherein he repeated his accusations about Officer Dmytryk; (4) a transcript from a preliminary hearing unrelated to Griffin’s case where Officer Dmytryk testified about his participation in the execution of a search warrant against the plaintiff in the civil rights case; and (5) police reports and property receipts pertaining to the unrelated criminal case from 2011.
As a result of Griffin’s Motion for a new trial, the trial court vacated his conviction, and held a hearing on January 15, 2015. Thereafter, the trial court concluded that Griffin was entitled to a new trial, reasoning that Griffin had met his burden because the very nature of the allegations against Officer Dmytryk would open a plethora of additional discovery as well as documentary evidence by the defense to compliment its impeachment evidence. Furthermore, the trial court concluded that “if this information had been presented to the Court at the time of trial, it would have resulted in a different verdict.”
The Commonwealth filed a Notice of Interlocutory Appeal to the Superior Court alleging error by the trial court.
Whether the trial court improperly granted a new trial on the ground of after-discovered evidence?
The trial court improperly granted Griffin’s Post-Sentence Motion for a New Trial. The trial court’s order granting a new trial was reversed and Griffin’s conviction and sentence reinstated.
The Superior Court first explained that in reviewing the decision of a trial court to grant a new trial based on after-discovered evidence, it must determine only if the trial court committed an abuse of discretion or an error of law which controlled the outcome of the case.
Ultimately, the Superior Court concluded that Griffin failed to identify testimony, physical evidence, documentation, or other matters that would have constituted after-discovered evidence that would have given the trial court authority to grant a new trial. Moreover, even if the items identified by Griffin would have comprised relevant evidence, they did not meet the four-prong admissibility test. That test requires that an appellant show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the after-discovered evidence (1) could not have been obtained prior to trial by exercising reasonable diligence; (2) is not merely corroborative or cumulative; (3) will not be used solely to impeach a witness’s credibility; and (4) would likely result in a different verdict. and, the proposed new evidence must be “producible and admissible.”
The Superior Court analyzed Griffin’s after-discovered evidence as follows:
1. The Federal indictment against six police officers that Appellee presented as “after-discovered evidence” did not contain any allegations that had any connection to the instant case. Significantly, Officer Dmytryk was not one of the six indicted officers, and none of the six indicted officers played any role in Griffin’s case;
2. The federal civil rights Complaint Griffin provided as “after-discovered evidence” did not meet the definition of admissible, relevant evidence;
3. The newspaper article did not meet the definition of “evidence” because it was merely the reporter’s version of facts and was not admissible at trial; and
4. The transcript and other police paperwork involving an unrelated preliminary hearing for another defendant contain no information that pertained to Griffin’s case. As such, these items were irrelevant and, accordingly, inadmissible.
Based on the above analysis, the Superior Court concluded that the trial court improperly granted Griffin’s Post-Sentence Motion for a New Trial.
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