Philadelphia prosecutors have a new tool to combat the city's "no snitch" culture - using grand juries to shield witnesses from threats by allowing them to testify in secret, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.
In scores of cases in 2013, the District Attorney's Office has been deploying a 23-member grand jury to file charges in selected violent crimes - when prosecutors claim witnesses have been intimidated or are likely to face threats.
The use of the indicting grand jury means witnesses in these cases are now testifying in secret and face no cross-examination. Neither suspects nor defense lawyers are allowed in the room.
Charges are leveled by a simple majority vote of the jury. For the targeted defendants, this supersedes the standard practice, in which judges uphold or dismiss charges after preliminary hearings. Those hearings include public testimony by victims and witnesses.
District Attorney Seth Williams was the first county prosecutor in Pennsylvania to impanel such a grand jury after the state Supreme Court joined 48 other states and authorized them last year. Prosecutors in Montgomery County, Chester County, and the Pittsburgh area are exploring the idea.