Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery is meeting with top Philadelphia judges, court administrators, and the district attorney to implement an ambitious reform agenda for the city’s troubled criminal justice system, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. McCaffery said the Supreme Court would require more accountability from the city courts, including new and detailed analysis of conviction rates, and an explanation of why so many cases collapse. “I want reform,” said McCaffery, a former Philadelphia judge. “The court needs it, and the citizens deserve it.”
The high court’s intervention is in response to an Inquirer series that found the city courts in crisis – with low conviction rates, widespread witness fear, a massive fugitive problem, and a bail system in disarray. McCaffery said each of those failings would be a focus of the reform effort. “I want it all addressed,” he said. “I want a full proposal for change.” McCaffery said he would direct the courts to hire a consulting firm to dig deeply into why the Philadelphia courts have the nation’s lowest felony conviction rate; analyze the Municipal Court to find out why so many cases fail at that initial level; examine the court’s dysfunctional bail system, and bolster efforts to prevent and punish the widespread intimidation of victims and witnesses. One possible approach is to create a witness-intimidation strike force, complete with a designated judge and assigned detectives, perhaps funded with federal money.