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Defense lawyers voice concern about Amtrak charges

May 19, 2017

The Philadelphia Inquirer
By Chris Mondics

At least one group of lawyers wasn’t clinking champagne flutes when state Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed criminal charges against the engineer of Amtrak Train 188, which derailed May 12, 2015, claiming eight lives and injuring hundreds.

Shapiro’s decision to charge Brandon Bostian on Friday has triggered skepticism and concern in the criminal defense bar, if only because the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office days earlier had declined to file charges against him.

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“The concern that I would have is that there will be a chilling effect on a prosecutor’s exercise of discretion to decline prosecutions in appropriate cases,” says Mark Sheppard, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, who practices with the Center City firm  Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP.  “To have him or her publicly second-guessed in this manner is bound to chill that, and to discourage that process would really be a shame because we want our prosecutors to achieve not just convictions but also to do justice.

“Sometimes, the right thing to do is not to bring charges.”

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Sheppard worries that prosecutors, rather than having to face down a judge or deal with political blowback, will take the easy way out when there is public pressure for an indictment but not a terribly strong case.

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