The Justice Wire
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The Justice Wire

Criminal Justice Leaders Urge Defendants to Get ‘Back on Track’ With Court System

For the District Attorney
Jane Roh, 215–686–8711, Jane.Roh@phila.gov

For the Defender Association
George Jackson, 267–765–6768, gjackson@philadefender.org

PHILADELPHIA (September 15, 2021) — The top criminal court attorneys in Philadelphia County on Wednesday urged people with open cases to take advantage of the First Judicial District’s “Back on Track Initiative,” which will take place the week of September 20th to support the accelerated reopening of most court proceedings, including hearings and trials.

From September 20th thorough September 24th, attorneys from the Defender Association of Philadelphia and private defense bar will be posted in the lobby of the Juanita Kidd Stout Criminal Justice Center (1301 Filbert Street) to help people with open criminal cases learn their next court date, receive service for their next court date, and/or address certain bench warrants for arrest though an expedited hearing process.

“Back on Track will provide an opportunity for the Court and our justice partners to assist Philadelphians by reconnecting citizens with legal counsel and providing information for any missed or upcoming matters before the Court,” Court of Common Pleas Administrative Judge Lisette Shirdan-Harris said. “This week-long pop-up resource center will aim to provide additional information and assistance to individuals currently released on bail in an effort to increase awareness and ensure court attendance.”

“As the leader of an office in which nearly 100% of prosecutors who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine have done so, I am eager for every part of the criminal justice system to resume pre-pandemic function and attack the backlog of criminal cases that accumulated during the unprecedented closure of most courtrooms starting in March 2020,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said. “I want to thank judicial leadership — particularly Administrative Judge Lisette Shirdan-Harris and Supervising Judge Lucretia Clemons — for their innovative oversight of the criminal courts during this unprecedented time. The Back on Track Initiative will provide defendants a convenient way to keep on top of upcoming court dates, and will prevent the unnecessary execution of arrest warrants for people who have committed no new offense and should not be returned to jail.”

“The Court created this program to make it easier for anyone who needs to address issues around scheduling, residency status, or lifting a bench warrant. If you fall into one of these categories, the Defender Association encourages you to meet with one of our attorneys, who will be posted in the lobby of the courthouse every day next week, before taking further action,” Chief Defender Alan Tauber said. “The Defender Association lawyers will be able to provide legal counsel and ensure that their clients’ rights are being protected and that the process is handled in a fair and lawful manner.”

“The Back on Track Initiative by the Philadelphia Courts is a wonderful reach-out to our clients who, due to the pandemic, have lost touch with the court system,” said Kathryn Cacciamani, private criminal defense attorney representing court-appointed and private counsel. “This innovative step is a huge move forward for justice in Philadelphia.”

People with open criminal cases who aren’t sure their next court date or are concerned they might have already missed a date are encouraged to connect with defense counsel participating in the First Judicial District’s Back on Track Initiative. This program is not intended for people who might have violated conditions of parole, or supervised release, or who are wanted for arrest outside of Philadelphia County. People who are eligible for support from the Back on Track Initiative but aren’t able to come to the Stout Center next week may call 215–683–7004, 215–683–7005, 215–683–7006, or go to https://www.courts.phila.gov/criminalcalendar/name/ to find their next court date.

At the peak of the COVID-19 criminal case backlog in March 2021, there were approximately 14,000, or 51%, more open cases than before the pandemic. Due to ongoing collaborative efforts by criminal justice system partners along with increased vaccine distribution, the open case backlog currently stands at approximately 11,000, or 38% above pre-pandemic levels.

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The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is the largest prosecutor’s office in Pennsylvania, and one of the largest in the nation. It serves the more than 1.5 million residents of the City and County of Philadelphia, employing 600 lawyers, detectives, and support staff. The District Attorney’s Office is responsible for prosecution of approximately 40,000 criminal cases annually.

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Philadelphia DAO

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is committed to seeking fair and equal justice for 1.5 million residents, while upholding Constitutional rights.