Commonwealth v. Benz

565 A.2d 764 (1989)

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Commonwealth v. Benz

Pennsylvania Supreme Court
565 A.2d 764 (1989)

  • Written by Sharon Feldman, JD

Facts

Paaron Jones and Pittsburgh police officer Joseph Benz got into an argument while both men were in a hospital to visit patients. Jones had a broken leg and was on crutches and twice struck Benz with a crutch. Benz pulled out his badge and firearm, identified himself as a police officer, and pursued Jones as Jones was attempting to flee. The men got into a scuffle, and Benz’s gun discharged. Jones was struck in the head and ultimately died from the gunshot wound. Although the coroner recommended that Benz be charged with voluntary manslaughter, the district attorney declined to file charges, concluding that the evidence supported Benz’s claim that the men were wrestling over the weapon and the shot was fired accidentally. The district attorney sought review of the decision, and the attorney general agreed that the evidence did not support the filing of criminal charges. Jones’s mother, Laverda Hicks (plaintiff) sought approval of a private criminal complaint. The district attorney disapproved the complaint, stating that the decision not to prosecute was based on the lack of sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case. The court of common pleas denied approval of the complaint. Hicks appealed to the superior court for review of the court of common pleas’ order. The superior court reversed, found that the available evidence established a prima facie case, and directed that the private criminal complaint be authorized. The commonwealth (defendant) appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Nix, C.J.)

Concurrence (Larsen, J.)

Dissent (Papadakos, J.)

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