The Justice Wire
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The Justice Wire

District Attorney Krasner Announces DAO Review Effort to Address Growing Case Load, Protect Public From COVID-19

CONTACT: Jane Roh, 215–686–8711, Jane.Roh@phila.gov

PHILADELPHIA (June 11, 2020)District Attorney Larry Krasner on Thursday updated the public on an influx of criminal incidents and cases since May 30th, when historically significant mass demonstrations against racism and injustice began in Philadelphia and across the country, simultaneous with a temporary increase in property crimes and burglaries, many of which were opportunistic in nature.

Consistent with existing policy to make prosecutorial decisions including charging on an individualized basis, using all available facts and evidence including people’s histories and health and economic needs, District Attorney Krasner has authorized a Charging Review Task Force to apply an additional layer of scrutiny to cases referred to the District Attorney’s Office during the following time periods:

  • May 1st to present: Philadelphia Police end COVID-19 arrest policy from March 17th, begin making more arrests for non-violent offenses including drug possession and sales
  • May 30th to June 5th: Philadelphia Police arrests increase sharply at sites of mass demonstrations against racism and injustice and at sites of vandalism, property destruction, and commercial burglaries

“Before being elected District Attorney of Philadelphia, I made a point during my criminal legal career of defending protesters who were unjustly arrested and prosecuted for exercising their First Amendment rights. No prosecutor’s office in America should be complicit in efforts to silence or punish people who are angry with government or elected leaders and are expressing themselves peacefully,” District Attorney Krasner said. “We should all be horrified and outraged by the unjust killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and so many Black Americans at the hands of those sworn to protect us all.”

District Attorney Krasner continued: “I am grateful to say that most arrests at protest sites were not referred to my office for prosecution. But, the increase of new cases must be carefully reviewed, both to ensure that people who did not in fact commit a crime or endanger others are quickly moved out of the criminal legal system, and that people who did engage in harm to others are held accountable.”

The DAO Charging Review Task Force is a collaborative effort by prosecutors in the Charging, Diversion, and Special Investigations units to ensure decisions made by police or prosecutors during the recent demonstrations are revisited and, when necessary, corrected. This will help reduce the current case load that has been building up during COVID-19 to manageable levels, and help prevent the transmission or outbreaks of COVID-19 in our county jails. Reduction of current case load is also necessary to address an unprecedented backlog caused by the cancellation of more than 15,000 hearings and counting because of COVID-19, cases that must immediately be processed when the emergency closure of most court functions is lifted.

“A one-size-fits-all approach to prosecution is how we became the most over-policed, over-incarcerated, and over-supervised country in the world in the first place. The DAO takes seriously the enormous power we have over people’s freedom and futures,” District Attorney Krasner added. “This office has worked non-stop throughout the courts closure to open cases, continue investigations, and to keep victims and witnesses informed about court delays as well as to provide support and services.”

Since 12:00 pm on May 30th, the first day of mass demonstrations and spates of property damage and burglaries that occurred in certain parts of the city, the DAO has charged more than 940 defendants for more than 996 cases. Approximately 600 of these cases were burglaries, of which at least 400 were felony commercial burglaries. Not all incidents or cases were connected to the opportunistic and perhaps sometimes coordinated vandalism and burglaries committed by multiple individuals in certain locations.

The vast majority of protest-related arrests made by Philadelphia Police during this period resulted in Code Violation Notices (CVNs), which are not referred to the DAO for prosecution.

The DAO has charged one individual for a violent assault on a Police Officer, and has charged a high-ranking Police Inspector for a violent assault on a protester. Both cases are under active investigation. A number of reported incidents of assaults and other crimes — including many reported to the DAO Special Investigations Unit, which oversees cases involving public officials including law enforcement — are still under active investigation.

Members of the public may report official misconduct or crimes, including those involving law enforcement, by contacting the DAO Special Investigations Unit: DAO_SIU@Phila.gov, 215–686–9608, or @PhilaDAO_SIU on Twitter and Instagram.

To date, at least five cases involving the attempted destruction or robbery of ATMs have been referred to the DAO for prosecution. Charges in those cases include Arson (F1), Weapons of Mass Destruction (F2), Causing or Risking Catastrophe (F3), and Conspiracy to Commit Burglary (F1).

The number of arrests made was significantly lower than the number of criminal incidents reported to Philadelphia Police. The volume of arrests made by Philadelphia Police has since dropped significantly as reported incidents have declined, from a peak of 214 on June 1st to 29 on June 9th.

From May 2nd to May 29th, the District Attorney’s Office requested that a defendant be released without cash bail (either ROR or SOB) at a rate of 53%. Since May 30th, that rate has increased to 65%.

Since implementing an emergency bail policy (on what bails to recommend to bail commissioners who have the power to set bail) due to COVID-19 and to accelerate criminal justice reform, the DAO has consistently recommended either that defendants be released without cash bail (ROR/SOB) or, for serious violent offenses like Aggravated Assault, Rape, Robbery, and being a felon in possession of a firearm, high bail amounts of $999,999.

DAO requests for $999,999 bails for serious and violent offenses have not been granted by Bail Commissioners to date. Commissioners have instead set cash bails ranging from $10,000 to $250,000 at a rate of 68%.

We are requesting $999,999 in certain cases for two reasons: First, it is the best thing we can do without legislative help to move Philadelphia closer to a system without cash bail, where people are either held or not held, as is the practice in Washington, D.C., and New Jersey. Both of those locations have a law that supports a no-cash-bail system. Second, while this high amount is equivalent to requesting non-eligibility for bail, it also provides the jails flexibility in where they hold incarcerated people that is not available for bails of $1 million or more. This flexibility is much needed given the COVID-19 pandemic. All cases involving First Degree Murder are Held Without Bail.

This policy is a response to the longstanding and highly troubling practice of bail commissioners imposing middling bails. Middling bails keep poor people in jail on non-serious matters where they should get out simply because they have no money to pay low bails (while more affluent people get out). Middling bails let people who have resources get out on very serious matters, like shootings, where they should be held pre-trial but the middling bail is low enough for them to pay.

All bails in Philadelphia only require 10% payment, and many bail bondsmen will only require a third of that amount, so even a bail that sounds substantial isn’t really for someone who has resources. For example, a $100,000 bail set by a bail commissioner only requires $10,000 to be paid or as little as $3,334.00 by a bail bondsman. The public is endangered at both ends by middling bails. Keeping poor people who are not dangerous in who should get out spreads the virus and wastes resources. Letting dangerous people who have resources out can lead to more violent crime.

District Attorney Krasner also announced a new DAO Public Data Dashboard feature to empower the public to hold the criminal legal system accountable for its role in reducing transmission of COVID-19 and saving lives. The COVID-19 Impact Report, which is updated daily by the largely grant-funded District Attorney’s Transparency Analytics (DATA) Lab, shows how the DAO and its partners in the criminal legal system reduced the jail population to historically low levels, and how the population is again on the rise due to changes in Philadelphia Police arrest policies and practices and the inability to move most cases through the court system due to COVID-19 emergency measures.

“Recent mass testing indicates our success in reducing the jail population by 20% has enabled us to avert coronavirus infections and fatalities such as those tragically seen in congregate facilities elsewhere. But, as our Governor and Pennsylvania Health Secretary have repeatedly warned, we are far from being past this pandemic,” District Attorney Krasner said. “Philadelphians including myself understand that returning to ‘regular’ life is not possible as long as the deep, systemic inequities further exposed by this virus exist. My office will continue to work with our partners in the criminal legal system to ensure conditions are safe for people in publicly controlled spaces, including jails and prisons, and that our actions remain centered on achieving justice for all people, rather than politics, expediency, or self-service.”

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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 citizens 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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