Philadelphia DA revamps prosecution process

    Community prosecution strategy assigns assistant district attorneys to particular areas or districts of the city. District Attorney Seth Williams anticipates more efficiency and increased safety.

    The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is putting the finishing touches on a major reform that will go into effect next week.

    Seth Williams Wednesday talked about the community prosecution strategy — and why it makes sense to hold preliminary hearings at the Criminal Justice Center in Center City.

    With community prosecution, groups of assistant district attorneys are assigned geographically to bureaus responsible for a particular area or district of the city, just like police officers.

    By gathering assistant district attorneys, police officers, witnesses and victims in the same place, Williams said, unnecessary delays will be eliminated. He said the new procedure will better protect witnesses than the current system.

    “It’s at a police district … but the witnesses just all walk through a door – just sitting there in a big courtroom,” said Williams. “Too often, the defendants and their friends have their Blackberrys out, or cell phones, taking pictures of the victims, putting ’em on Facebook. Doing all types of stuff, trying to intimidate them in the very courtroom where they’ve come to seek justice.”

    While it may be an inconvenience for some to travel downtown for the hearings, Williams said it will be a safer and more efficient process.

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