Philadelphians with open criminal court cases that were delayed or impacted by the pandemic should go to the Criminal Justice Center next week to meet with public defenders to reschedule hearings and potentially have bench warrants lifted, officials announced Wednesday.
The Justice Juanita Kidd Stout Criminal Justice Center was closed for months during the pandemic, causing a massive backlog of cases and many defendants to fall out of touch with their cases. The result, District Attorney Larry Krasner said, is that more than 1,000 people with ongoing criminal cases do not have scheduled court dates, and run the risk of missing future hearings and having bench warrants issued for their arrest.
To prevent those arrests and clear the case backlog, people with open criminal cases in Philadelphia County can go to the Criminal Justice Center on Sept. 20 to 24, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. There, they will be able to meet with attorneys from the Defender Association of Philadelphia to learn or reschedule their next court date, and address bench warrants through an expedited hearing process.
“This is your chance to come back into the system and to make sure that your rights are heard and protected. We can’t help you if you don’t come back and get your cases heard,” said Kathryn Cacciamani, a private criminal defense attorney.
The Court of Common Pleas initiative, dubbed “Back on Track,” is intended only to address cases in which adults face or are awaiting trial. It is not for juveniles, or to address issues for people who are on probation.
Krasner said people with outstanding bench warrants will not be arrested on site.
“We have been given assurances that the purpose of this program is not to see the arrest of anyone,” said acting chief defender Alan Tauber. “Our jails are full enough, and one of our priorities is to reduce the prison population. This program is not about seeking the arrest of anyone, but simply to get cases relisted, people’s addresses to be updated.”
If someone cannot attend in-person next week, they can call 215-683-7004, -7005, or -7006; or check courts.phila.gov/criminalcalendar/name. If a person is unsure whether their case qualifies, they can check case information at phillydefenders.org/mycase.