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Commonwealth v. Belani

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 25, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellant
v.
JACK BELANI, Appellee; COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellant
v.
WENJUE LIU, Appellee

Argued April 8, 2014

Appeal from the Orders of the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, No.(s) CP-51-CR-0012541-2010 and CP-51-CR-0012540-2010. Before WOELPPER, J.

Peter Carr, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellant.

Carson B. Morris, Philadelphia, for appellee.

BEFORE: SHOGAN, STABILE and PLATT[*], JJ.

OPINION

Page 1157

SHOGAN, J.

Appellant, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, appeals from the orders entered on March 1, 2013, precluding the admission of DNA evidence at the trials of Appellees, Jack Belani and Wenjue Liu.[1] We are constrained to reverse.

Page 1158

The Commonwealth assails the trial court's orders excluding DNA evidence that would tie Appellees to a robbery during which Appellee Liu shot the victim in the leg. The trial court summarized the facts as follows:

[O]n July 24, 2008, [Appellees], along with another co-conspirator, went to the complainant's apartment to commit an armed robbery. The Commonwealth further alleges that both Belani and Liu were armed and were wearing stockings over their heads, and that Liu ultimately shot the complainant in the leg. Belani was not arrested until November 5, 2009. Liu was arrested the following day. After a preliminary hearing on October 7, 2010, [Appellees] were held for court on robbery, aggravated assault, conspiracy, and related charges arising from the July 24, 2008 incident. After a number of continuance requests from Belani's attorney, the case was scheduled for a " must be tried" jury trial on September 10, 2012. Prior to trial, on July 2, 2012, the Commonwealth presented the court with a proposed order for [Appellees'] blood or oral swab samples for purposes of conducting a DNA analysis and comparison. See July 2, 2012 Order. The court signed the order that same day. On September 6, 2012, at the trial readiness conference, the Commonwealth advised the court that it would not be prepared to proceed to trial on September 10th because Belani had submitted his DNA sample later than expected. The court granted the continuance request and listed the matters for a waiver trial on December 14, 2012.2
2 The case was no longer being called as a jury trial.
On the December 14, 2012 trial date, defense counsel argued two motions. The first was a motion to dismiss pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 600(G). The court denied the motions to dismiss on March 1, 2013. The second motion was an oral motion--made in the alternative--to preclude the Commonwealth from introducing DNA evidence at trial. The defense argued that they had received the Commonwealth's DNA report as few as three days before trial and had not been afforded sufficient time to have their own expert(s) review the findings. The Commonwealth countered that it had been duly diligent in ensuring that the DNA analysis would be finalized in time for trial and had forwarded the resulting findings to defense counsel the day after receiving them.
The court also was informed for the first time on December 14th that the Commonwealth was demanding a jury trial. The court held its decisions on [Appellees]' motions under advisement and scheduled a January 28, 2013 hearing. The purpose of the hearing was to afford the Commonwealth the opportunity to present testimony explaining the delay in finalizing the DNA analysis. On January 28th, the hearing was continued to February 7, 2013, because the Commonwealth ...

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