March 27, 2007

Harrisburg, PA – Members of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) today were joined by victims and victim advocates calling a Joint State Government Advisory Committee, convened at the direction of a Senate resolution, to study so-called “wrongful convictions” stacked against justice and asking for changes to its composition and mission.

“Unfortunately, we have serious concerns that Senate Resolution 381, as it is currently being implemented, will fail to provide Pennsylvania with the kind of objective analysis necessary to preserve the integrity of the state’s governmental process and our criminal justice system,” said James B. Martin, PDAA President and Lehigh County District Attorney at a news conference held in the Capitol Rotunda.  “In order for the process to move forward in a meaningful and honorable way, there must be changes.”

Of the 37 members serving on the committee, there are only four prosecutors, one law enforcement representative and there are no victims or individuals from the local victim services community.  Rather, the committee is chaired and dominated by the most vocal of Pennsylvania’s anti-death penalty movement, criminal defense ideologues and other activists who have a strong bias against prosecution and in favor of criminal defendants and inmates seeking to overturn their convictions.

Joining PDAA were members of the Coalition of Pennsylvania Crime Victims Organization, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, Families of Murder Victims, Mothers United Through Tragedy, Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia and several local victim advocates.

“Anytime we look at the criminal justice system, crime victims and their perspective must be included,” said Donna Hull, President of the Coalition of Pennsylvania Crime Victims Organization.  “We are pleased to see the state’s victim advocate Carol Lavery serving, but one out of 37 hardly seems enough.”

PDAA is calling for the Joint State Government Commission and the Senate to reconsider the advisory committee’s composition and asking that the legislature add further balance to the process by forming an Advisory Committee to Study Impediments to Justice to address some of the unfair barriers to justice for victims.

“To move forward with such an important study of the criminal justice system without fairness or balance is unconscionable,” said Lynne Abraham, PDAA Legislative Chairman and Philadelphia District Attorney.  “Changes must be made, or justice won’t be served – for anyone one.”

Last week, the PDAA sent members of the Joint State Government Commission a letter outlining their concerns.  Among them: a one-sided and predisposed committee; the narrow focus on a small number of defendants granted post-trial relief; a lack of perspective from Philadelphia prosecutors, despite the fact that 40% of all jailed defendants are prosecuted there; and the glaring exclusion of law enforcement, victims and local victim services representatives.