In Philadelphia courts, year after year, half of serious criminal cases are dismissed before they get to trial, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Factor in cases dismissed once they reach court, only four of 10 Philadelphia felony cases, on average, end in a felony conviction. The high dismissal rates, a central issue in the race for the job of Philadelphia’s top prosecutor, were confirmed by data released by court administrators in response to an Inquirer request. The primary election is today.
Few in the justice system – the judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, police – agree on whom to blame other than the other guys. Judges blame weak cases, prosecutors blame lenient judges; defense lawyers blame an overzealous district attorney. “The fact is, if half the cases are being thrown out without a hearing, that’s a system failure that every single member of that system needs to accept,” said Bradford Richman, a prosecutor formerly in Philadelphia and now in suburban Montgomery County. A U.S. Justice Department study of courts in large urban areas found in 2000 that Philadelphia courts had the highest rate – 55 percent – of felony cases that ended in either a dismissal or an acquittal.