Of the Legal Staff
An advisory committee to the Joint State Government Commission released its final report with several recommendations for reform in the Philadelphia criminal justice system this afternoon, including that the state government should appropriate additional resources to Philadelphia to curb the intimidation of victims of crime and the intimidation of witnesses to crime.
Some of the proposals have already been adopted or are being implemented. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has already instituted the indicting grand jury for cases involving witness intimidation. The committee said that the First Judicial District needs updated bail guidelines, which is a project currently being undertaken by the FJD. The committee favored a criminal e-filing system, which is under development currently.
Two members of the advisory committee dissented.
Attorney Brian J. Frank dissented to the pretrial release and bail section of the report. Frank said that “the report fails to truly acknowledge and emphasize the disgraceful failure-to-appear rate — an initial FTA rate of at least 28 percent and an ultimate FTA rate (namely, a criminal defendant remaining a fugitive after one year) of 10 percent — that has long existed in Philadelphia under its current pretrial release system.”
Attorney Nicholas J. Wachinski also dissented to the pretrial release and bail section of the report. He said “no consensus was reached regarding the need to develop nonmonetary conditions of release … there is no system … that has eliminated monetary conditions of release as a viable and functional means for release of defendants pending trial. Although Pittsburgh advertises itself to be a ‘nonmonetary system,’ a great many number of surety bail bonds and fully financially secured (cash) bail bonds are levied against defendants there.”
The committee’s recommendations included that Philadelphia “develop, test and refine nonmonetary conditions of release,” such as halfway houses, treatment, supervision and specialty courts like veteran’s courts.
The advisory committee was instituted through a resolution adopted by the state Senate after a series by the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted problems in the criminal justice system.