In a sweeping move to lower Philadelphia’s staggering tally of 47,000 fugitives, top court officials have dropped 21,000 criminal charges against more than 19,000 defendants who skipped court years ago, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. At the urging of Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald Castille and District Attorney Seth Williams, judges closed criminal cases and canceled fugitive bench warrants for thousands of accused drug dealers, drunken drivers, thieves, prostitutes, sex offenders, burglars, and other suspects. The withdrawn cases are from 1998 and earlier.
“They were clogging up the system,” said Castille, a former Philadelphia district attorney. “You’re never going to find these people. And if you do, are you going to prosecute them? The answer is no.” One victim whose case was involved asked, “”How could they erase the case? I was a victim. There were lots of victims. It’s not right.” Dennis Bartlett, director of a trade group for private bail insurers, called the purging “probably the greatest act of general absolution in the history of the city.” He added: “These perpetrators got away with it, basically.” Prosecutor Williams said that none of the dropped cases involved serious bodily injury. Joseph McGettigan, Williams’ top aide, said prosecutors would reexamine the serious sexual offenses brought to the office’s attention by The Inquirer. He said there was “no question” that they should not have been withdrawn given the criteria established for the mass purge.