On December 13, 2011, Jerry Sandusky, the 67 year old former Penn State assistant football coach accused of 52 counts of sexual assault of 11 victims, made the decision to waive a preliminary hearing in the case. There was tremendous anticipation and drama attached to this hearing, as Sandusky’s attorney and Sandusky himself have denied the charges, and this would have been the first opportunity for Sandusky to confront his accusers and learn exactly what they would be testifying to in a trial of this case. The drama was heightened this week due to inflammatory statements by Joseph Amendola, Sandusky’s attorney, who accused the young men of pursuing their cases to receive compensation, stating: “What better motivation can there be than money?” Amendola further lit the flames by stating that the defense team was “in a fight to the death.”
At a preliminary hearing, unlike a trial, the purpose is to determine if there is sufficient evidence to hold the defendant for a trial of the charges against him. Thus, rather than proving the elements of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution only needs to establish that there is probable cause to believe that the charges are valid and can be proven in a Court of law. The defense does have an opportunity to cross examine witnesses, but not to the same extent as the full cross examination permitted during a criminal trial. The key advantage from the defense point of view is the opportunity to pin down the complainants’ testimony as to exactly what occurred, for later use in cross examination at trial if there are contradictions between hearing testimony, and testimony at trial.
Therefore, it was somewhat surprising that Sandusky chose to waive the preliminary hearing, depriving his defense attorneys of the opportunity to obtain definitive evidence of what he will be facing at trial. Considering that Mr. Amendola waived the preliminary hearing within minutes of its commencement, it appears that a last minute decision to waive the hearing was made by Sandusky and his attorney.
During an interview on NBC News, Mr. Amendola was confronted with the late waiver issue by newscaster Ann Curry, and his explanation was that he had received assurances that if the hearing was waived, Mr. Sandusky’s bail would not be increased at this time (it is presently $250,000) and he could continue to remain out of jail (on house arrest) with an ankle monitor to assure that he does not flee the jurisdiction.
Many legal analysts speculated that the reason for the waiver of the hearing was that a plea deal is in the offing. However, given Sandusky’s age of 67, and the likelihood that a plea would have to involve at least 12-15 years of jail time, it is doubtful that a plea will be accepted by Sandusky, assuming that the prosecution was prepared to offer a plea. Mr. Amendola vehemently denied that a plea deal was offered or being considered, indicating that this would amount to a “life sentence” based on Sandusky’s age.
Another explanation might be that Mr. Sandusky was fearful of the graphic nature of the allegations of abuse that might be offered by the six accusers who were prepared to testify at the hearing. In the “Court of public opinion”, Sandusky is guilty as charged, and he may have been concerned that the additional details of abuse testified to during the hearing would exacerbate an already complicated defense. If the case does reach trial, Mr. Amendola will likely attempt a motion to change venue in the case to avoid jurors who are too familiar with the case to be objective, but with the national notoriety of this case, this will be an exceedingly difficult task.
Contact the Westchester County Criminal Defense Lawyers online or toll free at (914) 428-7386 if you are charged with a crime or traffic infraction for a free initial consultation with an experienced attorney to discuss the charges against you in specific detail.