The Joint State Government Commission of the Pennsylvania General Assembly released a report on the criminal justice system of Philadelphia. The report was mandated by 2010 Senate Resolution 344, whose prime sponsor was Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf. The study was prompted by a series of articles that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on December 13–16, 2009, which presented a scathing indictment of the system. The principal deficiencies were found to be high violent crime rates, low conviction rates, a dysfunctional bail system, and witness intimidation. The commission was directed to arrive at recommendations to address these problems. Under the guidance of the sponsors of the resolution, commission staff assembled a 34-member advisory committee, headed by
David Sonenshein, professor of law at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law.
· Since the publication of the Inquirer’s critique, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the First Judicial District, the District Attorney, the City Administration, the Defender Association, and private stakeholders have come together to formulate and implement a wide variety of measures to address the system’s deficiencies. The initial results of this reform initiative have been very positive. A great deal of progress has been made in the last three years.
· Attempts to improve the City’s criminal justice system face a chronic shortage of funds and other resources.
· Among the most important measures that have been taken to improve the system are:
o the consolidation of hearings and trials in the Criminal Justice Center
o more accurate charging of offenses
o advances in electronic filing and discovery
o implementation of techniques to counter witness intimidation in court
At the same time, further measures are needed to further reform the system. The Advisory Committee made recommendations under four topics: pretrial services and bail, witness intimidation, court procedure, and technology.
· Update the guidelines for setting bail
· Expand use of nonfinancial pretrial release conditions
· The committee was split over whether to encourage the participation of private bail sureties
· Create a witness intimidation investigation and prosecution unit under the District Attorney
· Commence criminal proceedings before an indicting grand jury if witness intimidation is taking place or appears to be a serious threat
· Try felony cases in absentia (outside the defendant’s presence) if the defendant deliberately fails to attend the trial