Thursday, May 21, 2009

What Do Crime Victims Want?

What’s worse than being mugged by three healthy gun-toting males while walking on your own block?  Dealing with the Philadelphia court system for 13 months afterwards.  I lost three days of work healing up from my injuries and 12 days of work attending hearings and trials most of which were totally wasted time sitting around the courtroom when there was never any chance of my case being heard that day.
My case was assigned to the wrong building, continued to the right building but my files left at the old building, postponed several times because the various defendants’ lawyers couldn’t make it, because one of the defendants didn’t show, because the judge didn’t show, because the DA’s office didn’t provide requested papers to the defense, and because my witness, who was sick of the whole procedure didn’t show.  And I had to go through this whole mess twice because one of my attackers was a juvenile.
I believe in trying to protect society from violent criminals.  That’s why I stuck the whole procedure out for over a year.  That’s why I spent my time trying to find appropriate programs for my attackers to help turn their lives around.  The town watch volunteers saw me being mugged and followed my attackers for 8 minutes while on the phone to 911 until the police caught all three of them.  Swift justice might have meant something to my muggers — particularly the juvenile.  But delays like this only teach criminals that Philadelphia isn’t serious about preventing muggings.
The juvenile had the thickest file of the three, and the real gun was found at the site where he was arrested (the other gun turned out to be plastic) .  He never attended the programs I found for him, didn’t bother to meet with his probation officer, and moved away from the address he gave the court.  This experience taught the juvenile that yes, in Philadelphia, you can get away with crime.  They take a long time to prosecute you and then they send you home to your mother who couldn’t supervise you in the first place or you wouldn’t have been out mugging people.  He at least shortened my ordeal by pleading guilty.  
Eventually the adults were found guilty and given what I consider a fair sentence including 1000 hours of community service.  But having seen the records of the adults, I’m convinced the juvenile is a greater danger to the community.   The biggest danger of all, though, is people like me who do not want to go through this kind of judicial ordeal in order to prosecute crime..
Hearings and trials must be speedy, not only to keep the streets safe (my muggers were free on bail during the 13 months of their legal proceedings), but to keep citizens willing to testify.                           
My suggestions for modernizing Philadelphia’s courts are as follows:
1) Night court for preliminary hearings.  Lawyers, like doctors, should be on call. The hearing should be held while everybody is there and has a fresh memory of the events.
2) The preliminary hearing for a case involving juveniles and adults should be the same hearing — the evidence is the same, the witnesses are the same and the need for a trial is the same.
3) The trial for a case involving juveniles and adults should be the same.  Sentencing can be different, but again, the evidence and witnesses are the same and the victims should not be required to attend double sets of hearings and trials just because of the ages of the criminals.  Also, in my case, had the trials been combined, it might have come out that the juvenile was training the adults, rather than the other way around.  
4) If a lawyer can’t attend a court date, s/he should send a replacement, just like a doctor.  The trial should be held within two weeks of the crime. No exceptions should be tolerated, or even possible, for missing lawyers, mis-assigned cases, lost paperwork, or missing judges.
5) Witnesses’ recovered  property should be photographed and returned to the owner immediately — not held as evidence.
6) Philadelphia should develop a reputation for prompt trials.  There were actually two witnesses to my mugging, but the other one refused to give his name to the police because he didn’t want to go through the ordeal he knew was coming.

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