Philadelphia prosecutors are using a new tool to combat the city’s “no snitch” culture – using grand juries to shield witnesses from threats by allowing them to testify in secret, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The District Attorney has been using a 23-member grand jury to file charges in violent crimes when prosecutors claim witnesses have been intimated or are likely to face threats.
The use of the indicting grand jury means witnesses in these cases are now testifying in secret and face no cross-examination. Neither suspects nor defense lawyers are allowed in the room. Charges are leveled by a majority vote of the jury. For the targeted defendants, this supersedes the standard practice, in which judges uphold or dismiss charges after preliminary hearings. Those hearings include public testimony by victims and witnesses. District Attorney Seth Williams was the first county prosecutor in Pennsylvania to impanel such a grand jury after the state Supreme Court joined 48 other states and authorized them last year.