A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

IN RE: ORDER ADOPTING NEW RULES 556 THROUGH 556.12, AMENDING RULES 103, 540, 544, 547, 560, 573, 646, AND 1003, AND REVISING THE COMMENTS TO RULES 542, 578, 582, 648, AND 903 OF THE PENNSYLVANIA RULES OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE, NO. 414 CRIMINAL PROCEDURAL RULES DOCKET
Opinion By: per curiam
Posted By: W.D. Prothonotary
Date Rendered: 6/21/2012
Date Posted: 6/22/2012
Opinion Type: Rules 414crim.pdf
Date Rendered: 6/21/2012
Date Posted: 6/22/2012
Opinion Type: Rules 414crim.rpt.pdf
Date Rendered: 6/21/2012
Date Posted: 6/22/2012
Opinion Type: Rules 414crim.attach.pdf

From Pittsburgh-Tribune Review online

http://triblive.com/news/2078243-74/witness-intimidation-grand-cases-indictments-juries-court-defense-prosecutors-rights?printerfriendly=true

Prosecutors say Pa. Supreme Court’s OK of indictments by secret grand juries will help fight witness intimidation

About Bobby Kerlik
Tribune-Review Staff reporter Bobby Kerlik can be reachedvia e-mail or at 412-391-0927.

By Bobby Kerlik
Tribune-Review

Published: Saturday, June 23, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Updated 17 hours ago

Prosecutors across the state on Friday applauded a move by the state Supreme Court that allows them to use secret grand juries to bring indictments, saying it’s a necessary tool to help combat witness intimidation.

“That’s hugely significant. We will take advantage of that,” Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said. “Witness intimidation goes on every day.”

The state court on Thursday issued a change based on its rules committee recommendation to reverse a 1976 decision abolishing grand juries that issue indictments.

Prosecutors since 1976 have used grand juries to return presentments — reports that recommend charges. Once those are filed, a preliminary hearing is held at which witnesses testify.

Under rules taking effect in six months, grand juries again will be able to issue indictments allowing criminal cases to proceed to trial without a preliminary hearing.

However, the indictments can be used only in cases where “witness intimidation has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur,” according to the Supreme Court rules.

Prosecutors will have to petition a county’s president judge for permission to empanel the grand jury and file a document giving probable cause that witness intimidation exists in the case.

Defense lawyers said the change will make cases tougher for the accused.

“From a constitutional standpoint, it’s a nightmare, because you don’t get to confront the witness against you until trial,” defense lawyer Wendy Williams said. “There’s no cross-examination in front of a grand jury. If there’s any bias or motive from the witness, that’s not going to come out.”

Dan Fitzsimmons, chief trial deputy of the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office and a member of the high court’s rules committee, that recommended the change, said the ruling is narrowly tailored to affect only cases with witness intimidation.

“(The change) tries to strike a balance to protect the rights of the accused and the rights of the community to be safe and to effectively enforce the law,” Fitzsimmons said.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said witness intimidation occurs in nearly every homicide and shooting in Philadelphia.

“It’s another tool to allow us to get to the truth,” Williams said. “(Recently) there was a person who was murdered (when) 250 to 300 people were out for a barbecue. There were no witnesses. No one wanted to come forward.”

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.


Copyright © 2012 — Trib Total Media

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