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Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. Gerald A. Sandusky

The criminal trial of Jerry Sandusky, former Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) assistant football coach and founder of The Second Mile, an organization to help at-risk youth, began with jury selection on June 5, 2012. A verdict in the case was delivered on June 22, 2012. The presiding judge was the Honorable John M. Cleland.

Charges: Sandusky was originally charged with 52 counts related to the sexual abuse of at least 10 boys over a period of 15 years. Several charges were dropped during the trial, with the jury finally deciding on 48 counts. Sandusky denied all of the allegations.

Judge's Gag Order: Judge Cleland issued a gag order that applied to all lawyers, investigators, and others involved in any way with the case. It was in effect through the duration of the trial.

Sandusky's Status: Sandusky was largely confined to his State College, PA home before the trial got underway. He was present in court throughout the trial.

Related Cases: Criminal charges are currently pending in the case of two Penn State administrators, Gary Schultz and Tim Curley. 

Updates on the criminal trial were posted by the Centre County Pennsylvania Courthouse.

Elements of the Sandusky Trial

Motions in limine: Many motions in limine were filed with the Court in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. Gerald A. Sandusky case. Motions in limine asked the Court to rule on whether certain evidence would be permitted during the trial. The Court either ruled on these motions before the trial began, or waited until the evidence was presented during the trial.

Jury Selection: On June 5, 2012, jury selection began in the case. The Court individually examined each potential juror in voir dire in order to guarantee that selected jurors had no bias in the case, did not know any of the witnesses to be called, and had not formed any opinion as to guilt or innocence of the defendant. The Court ruled that jurors would not be kept sequestered throughout the duration of the trial.

Jury Instructions: The jurors were instructed not to speak about the case during the trial. They were also instructed not to conduct an outside investigation about the case, read any newspapers during the trial, or discuss the case with anyone outside the courtroom.

Opening Statements: After the jury was chosen and sworn in, opening statements began. Each side presented its theory of the case and what it expected the evidence to prove. The opening statements were not necessarily fact, nor were all of the assertions made actually proven at trial. In fact, the judge ruled that some of the evidence that either side hoped to introduce at trial would not be admitted.

Prosecution: In a criminal trial, the prosecution bears the burden of proof. Prosecutors must present sufficient evidence to convince a jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a crime occurred and that Jerry Sandusky committed that crime. During its case, the prosecution conducted a direct examination of lay and expert witnesses. This included the testimony of victims in the case, many of whom were called to testify and describe the sexual abuse.

Cross-examination: After the prosecution presented each witness, the defense had an opportunity to cross-examine each witness. At that point, lawyers tried to undermine the credibility of witnesses and questioned their recollections.

[Under Pennsylvania law, lawyers were not able to bring in expert witnesses to testify. The defense was limited in questioning witnesses about their backgrounds. They were only able to confront victims about any prior convictions of crimes of moral turpitude, which would include such crimes as theft and fraud.]

Re-direct: Following the defense cross-examination, the prosecution could redirect its witnesses, but questions were necessarily limited to the preceding defense examination. That redirect could be followed by a re-cross by the defense. Again, all questions asked were necessarily limited to the exam that preceded it.

Defense Motion for Dismissal of All Charges: At the close of the prosecution’s case, the defense moved for a dismissal of all charges. The judge denied that motion, determining that the prosecution presented enough evidence to convince a jury to find the defendant guilty and that the information presented effectively established each element of the crime.

Defense: The defense presented lay or expert witnesses to rebut the prosecution’s case. Jerry Sandusky was expected to testify in his defense, but did not do so. The prosecution had an opportunity to cross examine each of the defense witnesses and the defense was able to follow with redirect questions.

After the defense rested its case, the judge and lawyers for both sides determined which jury instructions were appropriate for the case. The judge also ruled on any post trial motions.

Closing Arguments: The prosecution presented its closing argument, and the defense closing argument followed. The prosecution had an opportunity to rebut the defense’s closing.

Jury Instructions: At the conclusion of closing arguments, the jury was instructed by the judge on the applicable law and how to apply it to the evidence presented at trial. It was also instructed about how to interpret the testimony of witnesses and was told not to hold against Sandusky the fact that he did not testify, nor to let that fact affect any determination about his guilt or innocence.

On June 21, the jury was left to deliberate.

Verdict: The Court reconvened late in the day on June 22, when the jury rendered its verdict. The jury found the defendant guilty on 45 of the 48 counts.

Sentencing: The judge will schedule a sentencing hearing within 90 days of the date the verdict was rendered. At that hearing, the victim witnesses in the case may present oral or written testimony called Victim Impact Statements; the defense will likely argue for mitigation of the sentence.

The judge will sentence Sandusky for a term that falls within the sentencing guidelines.

Appeal: After sentencing, the defense will have thirty days to file an appeal on any of the evidentiary rulings believed to have violated any of his rights or criminal law in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 

National Center for Victims of Crime Actions

The National Center for Victims of Crime was actively engaged in events associated with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. Gerald A. Sandusky case and remained concerned that victims were treated with fairness, dignity, and respect throughout the proceedings.

November 2011

Sexual assault allegations against former Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky were made public November 5, 2011.

NCAA Letter: Shortly after that time, the National Center for Victims of Crime called on the National Collegiate Athletic Association and all educational institutions to respond quickly and forcefully to child sexual abuse.  

Advocacy for Other Penn State Victim: A week later, the National Center assisted an adult survivor who came forward to reveal Penn State’s failure to respond to his reports about childhood sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a prominent Penn State professor in the 1980s.

Spring, 2012

As the Sandusky case was being calendared in Centre County, Pennsylvania, the National Center issued statements urging that institutions adopt a culture of accountability toward child sex abuse victims, in light of news reports of alleged child sexual abuse in an elementary school in Los Angeles and at the Citadel in South Carolina.

Sandusky’s defense counsel issued subpoenas to a wide range of organizations and agencies that had contact with the victims in the case, requesting extensive background information. Among the many documents sought by these subpoenas were medical records going back to birth, school transcripts, records from guidance counselors, and other documents.

Amicus Curiae Briefs:

In early April, the National Center filed an Amicus Curiae Brief to Quash Discovery Subpoenas with the Court, seeking a ruling that personal information that could be harmful to the victims not be disclosed. The wide-reaching subpoenas, according to the accompanying news release, constituted a fishing expedition for information about the victims, much of which would be irrelevant to the case but might cause the victims harm. The brief was denied by the Court on May 9, 2012.

On May 29, 2012, before the trial began, the National Center filed an Amici Curiae Brief in Support of the Victims' Motion to Proceed by Pseudonym, along with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), the National Crime Victim Law Institute, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and the Victim Rights Law Center. The brief argued that victims’ names should not be publicly disclosed during the course of the trial, and that the trial should be closed to spectators when the victims testify. The brief was accompanied by a news release. The brief was denied by the Court.