Pennsylvania should give extra money to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office to pay for a team of prosecutors and detectives with the sole mission of cracking down on witness intimidation, a state Senate advisory panel has recommended, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The committee of judges, law professors, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and other experts, urged that state law be rewritten to permit the Victim Assistance Program to help relocate witnesses to crimes. State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, the driving force behind the creation of the advisory panel on overhauling the Philadelphia criminal justice system, acted in response to an Inquirer investigative series that portrayed the Philadelphia criminal justice as in crisis.
After The Inquirer published the project, District Attorney Seth Williams and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court shook up the Philadelphia system. Williams reorganized his office, reassigning prosecutors to pursue cases by neighborhood and overhauling how charges were filed. Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille and fellow Justice Seamus McCaffery implemented rule changes aimed at making sure more cases went to trial. Most recently, the District Attorney’s Office has been gearing up to start using grand juries to indict defendants in cases involving violent crimes. The Supreme Court approved such juries as a step aimed at sparing frightened witnesses in selected cases from public testimony early in the judicial process.