Calling witness intimidation “a gigantic problem” in Philadelphia, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter will push for a law to make it a federal crime when threats are made in cases prosecuted in local court, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. When serious crimes go unpunished because of the loss of a witness, “that’s a total breakdown of the rule of law, and it’s appropriate for the federal government to come and help out,” said Specter, who convened a Senate subcommittee hearing on the subject in Philadelphia.
Specter (D-PA), who is up for reelection this year, called the hearing in response to a series of stories in the Inquirer that highlighted problems in the city’s troubled courts. U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who is challenging Specter for the Senate nomination in the Democratic primary, held a competing community forum on the same issues. At the two sessions, witnesses said problems in the city’s criminal justice system were deep-rooted and severe – and would take the participation of many players to fix. Criminologist John Goldkamp of Temple University said the issues highlighted by the Inquirer were “symptoms of dysfunction.”