Decrying a massive number of fugitives from justice in Philadelphia, District Attorney Seth Williams says the city’s “broken” bail system amounted to a second assault on crime victims, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Speaking at a Senate subcommittee hearing, Williams said defendants had learned to “defeat the system” by failing to show up for court, wearing down witnesses and causing cases to collapse in large numbers each year. “When defendants are fugitives and fail to appear, it revictimizes our victims,” he said. “They don’t get their cup of justice filled.”
Philadelphia has almost 47,000 long-term fugitives, one of the nation’s highest tallies. An Inquirer analysis of court data from 2007 and 2008 showed that nearly 19,000 defendants each year fail to show up for at least one hearing. That is one out of every three defendants. “If we’re going to address criminal behavior, it’s not the severity of punishment that matters, it is the certainty of punishment,” said Williams, who took office this month. “And there is no certainty of punishment when one out of three defendants fails to appear.” To fix the system, Williams and other witnesses said, cracking down on forfeited bail could deter defendants from skipping court – even if that meant collecting it from their relatives.