How PA Stopped Killings Of Testifying Witnesses: Closed Grand Juries

A man and woman in Philadelphia were killed in 2012, apparently in retaliation for their testimony in separate cases. Their brutal deaths helped bring change, reports the Philadelphia Daily News. The killings helped bring about a new method of prosecuting criminal cases in the state. One year after those changes were made, no witnesses in state criminal cases have been slain in Philadelphia. Last year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court began allowing criminal cases to be brought before an indicting grand jury instead of taking the standard path of publicly accessible hearings.

Since that alternative was introduced, the D.A.’s office has used it in more than 1,000 cases, says Deputy District Attorney John Delaney. “It’s an important tool for us to help reluctant witnesses who have been intimidated, or who live where there has been intimidation pervasive in the community, to take the first step of cooperation,” he said. When a case is brought before a grand jury, the prosecution’s witnesses testify without cross-examination from a defense attorney. In fact, the defendant and attorney aren’t even present during the testimony. Because of the changes allowed by the high court, Delaney said, “it’s an exceedingly rare event for a witness to be harmed for cooperating with police or the prosecution.”

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