ShareThis Page
News

Refusal to ID witness led to dismissal of drug charges against Chambers

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, June 18, 2012, 1:03 a.m.

Charges against a man accused of dealing drugs were dropped in Westmoreland County after prosecutors refused to reveal the identity of the key witness, a confidential informant who has been used in as many as 100 cases.

In court documents filed Tuesday, Common Pleas Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr. said the informant's identity was a "fundamental requirement of fairness." He said it was essential for the defense to question the only eyewitness in the case.

The case involves drug charges filed last year against Charles R. Chambers, 34, of Penn Hills. McCormick dismissed the criminal charges last month. Now Westmoreland County prosecutors are appealing that ruling.

Prosecutors contend that the informant, who is part of the Attorney General's Witness Relocation Program, should remain anonymous.

According to court documents, the informant has helped in the prosecution of defendants throughout Pennsylvania, New York and other states.

Prosecutors contend that the safety of his relatives, who still live in the region, would be in jeopardy if his identity is revealed.

"This person was relocated for his safety," said Assistant District Attorney Judy Petrush.

The informant was the key witness against Chambers. Police contend the informant helped facilitate a drug buy in Arnold on Jan. 18, 2007, then went off with Chambers to complete the $140 sale of crack.

Because the informant was the lone witness to the drug sale, defense attorney Emily Smarto argued that his identity was essential to the case.

"Generally, you want to be able to exercise the right to confrontation and to cross-examine the eyewitness. It was extremely important in this case," Smarto said. "If they don't want to reveal him and produce him for trial, that's all well and good. But the upshot is you get the case dismissed."

Prosecutors argued that even without the informant's testimony the case still could go to a jury. Petrush, in the appeal with the state's Superior Court, contends the judge could simply tell jurors that a witness, the informant, was missing.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me