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Philadelphia-Quashing a criminal defendant’s subpoena, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that documents detailing the state Department of Transportation’s internal accident investigations and studies are shielded from discovery and use in court. In Commonwealth v. Taylor, a 4-2 majority of the court concluded that the state Legislature had created a “narrow but absolute privilege” for the department in this area and that the relevant language in the Motor Vehicle Code was explicit and unambiguous on the point. The department had argued that disclosing the records would have a chilling effect on its ability to gather accurate and honest information about accidents without fear of liability. Justice Ronald D. Castille wrote the majority opinion. “To allow discovery of these accident reports and studies in collateral matters would directly counter the statutory mandate of promoting a safe and efficient highway system by involving PennDOT employees and consultants in collateral legal actions or other proceedings of any type,” Castille wrote. The court also rejected the criminal defendant’s argument that a privilege shielding the records would violate his due process rights under the state and federal constitutions. The defendant, Gerald S. Taylor, who was preparing to defend vehicular homicide and driving under the influence charges, said he had a due process right to information that could provide exculpatory evidence that would lessen his culpability, according to the opinion.

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