What happens when a major player in the criminal justice system breaks ranks with their partners? According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “That’s what happened when Former District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, stung by reports that her office had consistently low conviction rates, defended her performance Monday and criticized the rest of the city’s criminal justice system as riddled with “deeply troubling” problems.
Abraham, who left office in January after 18 years, cited widespread witness fear, a massive fugitive problem, a dysfunctional bail system, and the dismissal of thousands of cases annually with no ruling on the merits.
Speaking at a hearing of the U.S. Senate subcommittee…, Abraham faulted Philadelphia judges as being too lenient and too quick to toss out cases. She criticized defense lawyers for “gaming the system” through deliberate delays aimed at wearing down victims and witnesses.
She blasted a bail system that allows fugitives to skip court with virtual impunity. And she faulted court clerks for shoddy record-keeping that has thwarted the city’s efforts to collect nearly $1 billion in forfeited bail.”
In a previous post on this site, we cited another article from the Philadelphia Inquirer. We stated that Philadelphia is an example of how justice can get bogged down to such a degree as to have an impact on an entire metropolitan area.
The Inquirer cites a considerable number of data sources indicating that “Philadelphia defendants walk free on all charges in nearly two-thirds of violent-crime cases. Among large urban counties, Philadelphia has the nation’s lowest felony-conviction rate.”
Well first, we have to hum the theme song to “Law and Order” or “CSI” and come to grips with the fact that Philadelphia is more indicative of the nation’s criminal justice system than anything you see on television.
On TV, crimes are solved and prosecuted by beautiful, well dressed fast quipping actors who wrap up the case in systematic fashion (anyone ever see a real homicide detective?—not an especially pretty sight).
For some of the country, the Philadelphia Inquirer articles hit closer to home.
For regular readers, you know that we’re raised the prospect that budget cuts are rearranging the way we do business. The criminal justice system is changing before our eyes through a budget reduction process lasting for a decade or more.
The former District Attorney’s charge of massive fugitive problems? We would guess that many cities and states have similar issues.
Sloppy record keeping? Thousands of criminal cases are lost this way.
Thousands of cases being dismissed? Routine for a lot of jurisdictions.
Defense lawyers gaming the system? Happens practically everywhere.
Criticizing the city’s criminal justice system as riddled with problems? That’s like saying the sun rises in the morning to most crime reporters.
No, not every city and every state are riddled with problems, and some are simply superb because they have sufficient funding and leadership. But many are troubled to the point of causing the foundations of justice to sway.
And the interesting thing about all of this is that it’s no secret to anyone close to the system.
Behind closed doors, what was uttered by Ms. Abraham is repeated by a lot of people in the justice system. Ms. Abraham’s crime was saying it in public.