To stop criminal defendants from thumbing their noses at appearing in court, Philadelphia’s criminal justice system is opening the door wider for private bail firms and starting a special court to crack down on fugitives, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The changes are aimed at changing a toxic culture in which defendants felt – rightly – that they could duck court with impunity, say two state Supreme Court justices who pushed through the changes.
Chief Justice Ronald Castille and Justice Seamus McCaffery have implemented many reforms in response to a 2010 Inquirer investigative series on the Philadelphia courts that documented widespread witness intimidation, a massive number of fugitives, and some of the nation’s lowest conviction rates for violent crimes. McCaffery, a former Philadelphia homicide detective and city judge, said, “The bottom line is we no longer can allow our system to be run by people who show up when they want to show up – if they want to show up. They need to understand that there will be sanctions.” The Inquirer disclosed that a staggering 47,000 defendants were long-term fugitives from the courts, and the system was owed $1 billion in forfeited bail.