How to Wreck a Brilliant Piece of Lawyering

Recently a brilliant piece of lawyering was destroyed when the accused decided to try to “game the system” and appeal his summary offense guilty plea after the DA’s Office withdrew all of the misdemeanor and felony charges that had been pending against him.  The moral of this story seems to be that when your lawyer gets you a good deal, don’t go hire a new lawyer and try to get yourself a better deal.

In the recent case from Delaware County, the defendant was involved in an altercation with police that led to felony charges of Aggravated Assault, and misdemeanor charges of Terroristic Threats, Simple Assault and Recklessly Endangering Another Person.  The case proceeded to trial but during the trial the defense lawyer was able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecution wherein all of the felony and misdemeanor charges would be withdrawn.  In exchange the defendant agreed to plead guilty to a summary offense of Disorderly Conduct.  So that the defendant would be able eventually expunge his record, the Disorderly Conduct charges were filed by citation at the local District Court.  The defendant pled guilty to a single charge of Disorderly Conduct before the District Judge and was ordered to pay a $100 fine.  The next day the District Attorney withdrew the misdemeanor and felony charges.

The result achieved by the lawyer on behalf of the client was fabulous; to be considered a victory.  However, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the defendant hired a new lawyer and shortly after the DA’s Office withdrew the misdemeanor and felony charges, the defendant filed an appeal of his summary offense guilty plea, which the Rules of Procedure entitled him to do.  Of course, the DA’s response was to ask the Court to reverse the withdraw of the misdemeanor and felony charges and to reinstate the more serious offenses.

The Delaware County Court, recognizing the defendant’s attempt to “game the system” dismissed the Disorderly Conduct appeal.  The defendant appealed the dismissal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which ruled that, in fact, the defendant was entitled to appeal his summary offense conviction.  However, the Superior Court also ruled that by effectively acting to avoid the plea agreement that he had previously made with the prosecution, the defendant waived any future double jeopardy claim he might have had if the prosecution refiled the felony and misdemeanor charges.  The Superior Court clearly did not approve of defendant’s gamesmanship and stated that defendant “can weight his options either to forego the right to a summary appeal and affirm the pact that he struck with the Commonwealth, or face the full panoply of charges which the Commonwealth requests to reinstate against him…”

When one takes into account the thousands of dollars this person spent on his summary appeal, the county court proceedings and the Superior Court appeal, the more logical choice would have been to be satisfied with the terrific deal his original lawyer negotiated for him that resulted in virtually all of the charges being withdrawn.