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Issue Home December 14, 2004 Site Home

Slices Of Life
Along the Way...With P. Jay
From the Desk of the D.A.

Slices of Life

Realistic Decorations

It’s time to put up the Christmas decorations. Everywhere I go I see decorated trees, swags of greenery, wreaths, lighted reindeer, Santa and his elves, baby Jesus in a manger, and a myriad of colored lights or white twinkling lights. But I can’t even think of decorating until I get this pile of gifts wrapped, the cards addressed, notes written and the overall clutter removed from my house.

To get away from that clutter, I decided to take a walk out the old railroad grade one afternoon this week. There I saw the most beautiful holiday display ever. Three deer sauntered out of a neighbor’s lawn and stood and looked at me as I moved closer to them. They obviously belong in this neighborhood and have probably visited my lawn and flowers on several occasions. But now they were back near the thicket where they live, and were feeling very bold. When I kept walking, they finally bounded from the railroad grade, two going into another lawn and one crossing over to the shallow woods. There stood the three of them, not moving, but watching me intently. They were gorgeous. I never realized that the white on their tails, which are like flags when they are running, also shows on both sides of their rump when their tails are down. Their eyes were so big and they stared at me with such intensity that they looked very intelligent.

If I’d had my camera, I could have gotten the front of next year’s Christmas cards. That sight should be enough to put me in a Christmas mood.

When I think about deer and Christmas, the memory of my first Christmas with my husband comes to mind. It was Christmas Eve and we were making the hundred-mile trip back to celebrate the holiday with our families. It was well after dark by the time I got all the gifts wrapped and we got on our way. We were coming from around Erie and heading to Smethport. It’s been so long since I’ve made that trip that I forget all the towns along the way, but at one point where the road makes a sharp turn, we looked out onto this starlit field and it was awash with deer. The night was so bright that every deer was visible against the snow and it seemed like there must have been hundreds of them. Just a gorgeous sight. We had to stop while some of them meandered across the road. Talk about a perfect Christmas Eve.

It was very unusual to see a herd that big back in the 1960’s. I can remember when I was a child that it was an event to see deer in the fields. If we were driving and someone spotted deer, Dad would stop the car and we’d sit there and watch them until they left or duty called us home.

Wild turkey and bear were practically unheard of. Their population has certainly enlarged or moved closer to civilization. Now we are blessed(?) with all kinds of wildlife.

If I could only get these deer that I saw to come stand in my yard while I shine a spotlight on them, I’d have the perfect Christmas display. And after all I’ve fed them these past few years, that shouldn’t be too much to ask.

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Along the Way...With P. Jay

The 3,000 Page Fiasco

I do not make it a habit of poking my nose into Washington politics, not only because it is too complex, but because I just was never able to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys. Hell, I have a hard enough time trying to keep tabs on our three county commissioners let alone wonder and worry about what 100 US Senators and 540 Congressmen are up to in Washington.

However, I do try to keep at least one eye on the Nations Capital, if for no other reason than to have some awareness of what’s going on down there. Oh, our congressmen are back on the home front plenty of times but it is usually on a politically oriented tour designed to maintain some kind of rapport with grassroots voters.

Want to know what impresses voters the most? The answer is name-dropping. I have been writing about politics for more years than I care to remember and trust me, a voter is really impressed when his congressman walks up to him, shakes his hand and says something like, “How are you, Bill? How’s the Mrs. doing?” Wow! Bill doesn’t wash that hand for a week. Next morning at the coffee shop he tells everyone how his congressman called him by his first name. And for the rest of his life, Bill will vote for that congressman.

Anyhow, one of the things that recently surfaced from D.C. is a 3,000 page, $388 billion omnibus spending bill that has shaken up the populous including not only grassroots voters but also some of the congressmen who voted for the bill. The bill was pushed through the House and the Senate on Saturday, November 20 about three days after it was distributed to the congressmen and senators. Needless to say, they did not have time to read all 3,000 pages. They apparently supported it because it was the political thing to do and the old “you scratch my back and I scratch your back” scenario. The House approved the measure by a vote of 344-51 and the Senate approved it 65-30.

At last look, action was stalled because some legislators uncovered a provision buried deep in the bowels of the hefty bill that would have given the Appropriations Committee the right to access income tax returns of any American. Republican leaders promised to delete the provision and President Bush announced his intention to sign the bill once the provision is removed.

There are hundreds of pacifiers in the bill that apparently were implanted to extract affirmative votes from congressmen and senators. Some examples in the voluminous document include: $335,000 to protect sunflowers in North Dakota from blackbird damage; $60 million for a new courthouse in LacCruces, N.M.; $225,000 to study catfish genomes at Auburn University; $80,000 for the San Diego Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center; $100,000 for a municipal swimming pool in Ottawa, Kan; and $100,000 for the Punxsutawney (as in Punxsutawney Phil) Weather Museum.

How about $3.5 million for bus acquisition in Atlanta, Ga.; $2 million for kitchen relocation in Fairbanks North Star Borough in Fairbanks, Alaska; $1.5 million for a demonstration project to transport naturally chilled water from Lake Ontario to Lake Onondaga; $500,000 for the Kincaid Park Soccer and Nordic Ski Center in Anchorage, Alaska; $250,000 for the County Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn.; or $25,000 for fitness equipment for the YMCA in Bradford County, PA. This is just the tip of the iceberg. On top of all this, Congress gave itself $3.6 billion for its own operations which is $48 million more than last year.

Oh, yes, there is $404 million to help refugees in Sudan on top of $95 million approved earlier this year; and, $980 million for reconstruction and rebuilding Afghanistan’s national army.

There are a lot of needed appropriations in the bill that are essential for our nation to remain strong and safe. But, my friends, there is also a lot of pork in it. And in case you were not aware of it, this is the same Congress that approved the smallest budget increase in 10 years for the Department of Education.

Children are starving in these United States and our government is squandering money. Seniors are struggling to buy prescription medicine, groceries and heating fuel, and our government is spending billions as easily as a child in a candy store. The future of Social Security still remains in doubt and congressmen give themselves pay raises.

Perhaps it is time we send men and women to Washington who will do more than shake hands, remember a first name, and spend a few bucks back home on projects that will pacify the silent majority while the lion's share of the spending is appropriated for questionable projects. It doesn't make much sense to be the guardian of the world if the fence in the backyard is falling apart.

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From the Desk of the D.A.

Recently, the Ohio Supreme Court reversed a murder conviction and death sentence based upon the Ohio court lacking subject matter jurisdiction over the murder. What is subject matter jurisdiction? Generally speaking, subject matter jurisdiction provides a court the authority to hear a case. In other words, the activity in question must have occurred within the jurisdiction of the court. Each court has a specific area of control, and activities occurring outside that designated area are generally outside the court’s control (or jurisdiction).

In criminal matters, subject matter jurisdiction indicates that a criminal matter must be initiated in the district in which the crime was committed. Furthermore, the jurisdiction of courts may overlap. In Pennsylvania, a crime is first charged in the magisterial district in which it occurred, with a preliminary hearing to be conducted in that jurisdiction. After the preliminary hearing, the criminal matter is referred to the Court of Common Pleas for the county in which the magisterial district is located. The Court of Common Pleas usually encompasses more than one magisterial district. For instance, in Susquehanna County, there are three separate magisterial districts.

Generally, subject matter jurisdiction does not often rear its ugly head in criminal matters. If a crime is committed in Montrose, there is little dispute over the jurisdiction in which criminal charges should be lodged. On the other hand, being a county in close proximity to New York State, there are times when continuing crimes spill over into another sovereign state’s jurisdiction. For instance, if a vehicle were stolen in Hallstead, and the culprits used Interstate 81 to get to Broome County, New York, where the car was sold to a chop shop. How do criminal charges get filed where two separate jurisdictions are involved? Usually, each jurisdiction will charge for the crimes that occurred within each jurisdiction, and the defendant faces prosecution in two separate arenas. On the other hand, there are times when the criminal acts in both jurisdictions are so entwined and closely related that one of the jurisdictions will assume the matter for prosecution so as to avoid undue expense.

As noted above, this issue recently made headlines when the Ohio Supreme Court reversed a murder conviction based upon a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Terrell Yarbrough had been convicted of murdering two college students, and an Ohio jury had sentenced him to the death penalty. In the case, two college students were attending summer school in Ohio, when Terrell Yarbrough and a co-defendant kidnapped them, stole their Chevrolet Blazer, transported the victims into Pennsylvania, where they were shot to death. The prosecutors in the case both argued over jurisdiction, but the Pennsylvania prosecutor eventually acceded to the Ohio prosecutor’s argument that the murders resulted from a series of crimes with their origin in Ohio. The prosecutors mutually agreed that it would be better for the victims for only one jurisdiction to pursue prosecution, rather than having two separate and lengthy trials in separate courts.

The Ohio Supreme Court determined that Ohio courts had jurisdiction over the kidnapping and robbery, but not the murder, as there was no physical act contributing to the murder that actually occurred in Pennsylvania. Thus, the Pennsylvania prosecutor must start anew with an old murder case and the victims’ families must undergo the trauma and pain of a new trial. While legal minds may understand the niceties of subject matter jurisdiction, lay-persons generally have little interest in such matters and seek only the results. The prosecutors in the Yarbrough case will have a difficult time explaining to the families of the victims the reason that the murder and death sentence were reversed.

Ultimately, however, Terrell Yarbrough will stand trial in Pennsylvania for these gruesome acts.

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