2020: A year of dedication, resilience and innovation
As 2020 comes to a close (finally!), we turn a cautious but hopeful eye towards 2021. While much has been lost to the pandemic, I’d like to take a moment to focus on the positive.
As the current president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, I have had a front-row seat watching my fellow
prosecutors overcome unprecedented challenges through dedication, resilience and innovation. It’s been said that a crisis is a good opportunity to do things you didn’t imagine you could do before. Prosecutors and their staff across Pennsylvania have been doing their jobs under the circumstances unimaginable a year ago, and doing them well.
While the health and judicial emergencies have forced us to rethink and redesign how we do our jobs, our mission endures: we strive to ensure fairness for all in the criminal justice system, especially for crime victims, but also for the defendants we prosecute. At a time when public trust in the criminal justice system has wavered, we have been listening and learning and strengthening our commitment not only to pursuing justice but to bolstering our constituents’ confidence that justice is being done.
For PDAA, its mission of training, advocacy and fellowship also endures. During difficult times, the temptation for organizations is to tread water; stay afloat; simply make it through. PDAA did much more. We grew as an organization, remained engaged on issues, and continued to be an active advocate. At all times and in all we do, the PDAA prioritized helping our most vulnerable victims and enhancing community safety and public confidence in the criminal justice system.
The PDAA made the necessary adaptations to provide guidance and support to Pennsylvania’s prosecutors as they continued to perform their duties during the pandemic. Our staff is second to none and rose to the challenge of remote working without a disruption in membership services. Of critical importance, the PDAA continued to providing trainings of the highest quality for Pennsylvania’s prosecutors and law enforcement with innovative new online and on-demand options.
Even while facing COVID’s challenges in their home counties, our leadership team remained engaged promoting our vision and goals. We welcomed new members to PDAA’s executive committee and the Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Institute’s board of directors. We created a new Victim Services Committee to develop and approve guidance related to serving crime victims, which is at the core of what prosecutors do. It will also act as an important liaison between the PDAA and the Commonwealth’s robust victim services community.
The PDAA’s amicus brief committee was more active than ever, weighing in on a number of appeals that will have a significant impact on law enforcement and the criminal justice system statewide. These appellate issues include admission of prior bad act evidence in sexual assault cases, use of real-time cell tower information to locate offenders, use of comfort dogs during testimony by child witnesses with autism, and applicability of the rape shield law for prostitution-related offenses.
The PDAA provided testimony before the Senate Majority Policy Committee regarding the importance of expanding our existing ethnic intimidation statute to cover a broader group of individuals. All the while, we continued to advocate on the state level on behalf of the most vulnerable, including survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, and to keep our communities safe from repeat drunk drivers.
Prompted by events including the death of George Floyd, District Attorneys have been actively involved in a renewed examination of the criminal justice system and the role of prosecutors in building bridges within our communities. Our members have engaged in initiatives to foster understanding, promote diversity and inclusion and work with community leaders to promote equality and improve relationships with communities of color. In the New Year, we expect to develop additional opportunities to spark thought, engagement and action on these important issues.
It has been anything but a typical year. But the one constant for District Attorneys and assistant district attorneys alike is their commitment to serving their communities. A special online video project developed by PDAA highlights some of those prosecutors: what inspires them to do the job they do and what keeps them going. While each prosecutor’s story is different, it is clear that these are all dedicated public servants focused on fairness and justice. And that is what our profession and our Association is all about.
I am grateful for the way our leadership team, our staff, and our members have navigated 2020, and the positive energy they have already focused on 2021. May it be a happy, healthy and safe New Year!
Mike Piecuch is District Attorney of Snyder County and the President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org