Friday, July 25, 2014

Lawyer: Turn over evidence

February 20. 2013 12:48AM
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WILKES-BARRE – An attorney for a man facing drug charges has asked a judge to decide whether police should be required to turn over an audio and video recording of a alleged drug transaction made by a confidential informant in the case.

Assistant Public Defender Michael Kostelaba argued prosecutors are obligated to release the recording because it's important evidence in the case against Aaron Frantz.

First Assistant District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce said police have rightfully denied access to the tapes to protect the informant's safety and ensure he or she can continue to work with police.

Frantz, 63, of Zerby Avenue, Edwardsville was charged in July 2012 with selling cocaine to an informant on Oct. 21, 2011. The informant had placed a call to Frantz, then wore a video recording device while making the purchase, according to an arrest affidavit.

Kostelaba has asked the District Attorney's Office to turn over both the audio and video recording, but authorities have refused. That prompted him to file a motion Thursday seeking to compel the disclosure of the tapes.

In an interview, Kostelaba said the defense should be permitted to review the tapes if the informant is to be called as a witness for the prosecution. It's what police purport to be evidence of the crime, therefore it's critical to the defense, he said. If the (informant) is a witness, they're a witness. They can't just be a witness for one side.

Sanguedolce said the courts have long recognized the legitimate interests of police in protecting the confidentiality of informants.

Not surprisingly, drug dealers tend to be violent, said Sanguedolce. When someone who is a drug dealer finds out another person ratted them out to police, it puts that person in danger.

With that in mind, the courts have said defendants are not automatically entitled to review tapes. They must show a valid reason as to why the information is crucial to their case.

There has to be more than a mere allegation, Sanguedolce said. The defendant must demonstrate a good faith basis, (such as) the officer misstated the fact in the affidavit.

The motion will now be assigned to a judge, who will issue a ruling at a later date.

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