Admissions • Administrative Hearing Transcripts • Evidentiary Rulings after Mistrial

Commonwealth v. Croucher, PICS Case No. 14-0397 (C.P. Lycoming February 2014) Lovecchio, J. (6 pages).

Where administrative hearing transcripts contained admissions by a criminal defendant, the court’s denial of the commonwealth’s motion in limine was clearly erroneous and the court could reconsider its denial after a mistrial. Granted.

Defendant Karrie Croucher was charged with one count of aggravated assault, one count of simple assault, and one count of endangering the welfare of children. The commonwealth filed a motion in limine seeking an order permitting it to introduce defendant’s transcripts from Children and Youth hearings that the commonwealth alleged contained admissions by the defendant. The court rejected the commonwealth’s motion, ruling that the defendant’s statements did not constitute admissions, but if they did, they were not relevant, or any probative value was outweighed by the potential for prejudice and confusion of the jury.

After trial, the court ruled a mistrial after the jury became hopelessly deadlocked. On retrial, the commonwealth filed its motion in limine again, arguing that the Superior Court reversed the trial court’s denial in the case of Croucher’s co-defendant, Christopher Ingram.

In Ingram, the Superior Court ruled that the statements made in the transcripts were admissible as Ingram adopted them as true; the court also concluded that the transcripts, which established that the victim child suffered injuries while in the care and control of Ingram and the defendant, were relevant and probative to the identity of the victim’s assailants.

In this case, the court noted that reconsideration of rulings such as the commonwealth’s motion in limine are permissible where there has been a change in the controlling law, a substantial change in the facts or evidence giving rise to the dispute, or where the prior holding was clearly erroneous and would create a manifest justice if followed. The court found that there was not a substantial change in the facts or evidence, nor was there a change in the controlling law, as the Superior Court’s decision in Ingram was unpublished and not precedential.

However, the court found that the prior ruling was either an abuse of discretion or clearly erroneous. The court held that the transcripts were admissible against the defendant under the party-opponent exception to the hearsay rule, and were relevant and probative as to the identity of the victim child’s assailants. Moreover, the court noted that it could not permit two separate trials with the defendant and Ingram with two different evidentiary rulings that could lead to inconsistent results, as it would create a manifest injustice, and disrupt judicial efficiency by causing an appeal.