Skip to main content

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I report a crime?
All crimes, emergency and non-emergency, should be reported by calling 911. The only crimes reported to the District Attorney’s Office are private criminal complaints. 

What happens after a crime is reported?
The police will investigate, prepare a report, and, where possible, arrest the perpetrator. When the police have completed their investigation, the case will be reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office, which will determine the appropriate charges and prosecute the case. A judge will set bail for the defendant and prescribe conditions to protect you and others. After a preliminary hearing, the case will be assigned to a trial judge. An assistant district attorney is often assigned to specially prosecute the case and trained victim services coordinators will assist you at every stage of the proceedings.

Where can I obtain information about my case?
If you have a question, concern or grievance, please call the telephone number that corresponds with your case. These numbers can be found on the back of the subpoena that you received in the mail. If you are unsure who to contact, please call the Victim/Witness Services Unit main number at 215-686-8027 or e-mail [email protected]

How do I get a victim/witness coordinator to assist me?
For most types of crimes, a victim/witness coordinator will contact you by telephone before any court hearing takes place. You may also call the Victim/Witness Services Unit main phone number at 215-686-8027 or e-mail [email protected] to be directed to the appropriate coordinator.

I was the victim of a violent crime and I am having a hard time paying for medical, funeral, mental health, and other related losses. Where can I get help?
The Victims Compensation Assistance Program offers financial reimbursement to crime victims and citizens who come to victims’ aid. Financial assistance is provided to cover: loss of earnings, out-of-pocket expenses for medical care and may also help with costs associated with home health care services, funeral and burial expenses, loss of support, loss of earnings, counseling, and crime-scene clean-up. Contact EMIR Healing Center at 215-848-4068 or [email protected] for assistance. 

I was the victim of a violent crime. What resources are available to me? 

  • The Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia: Families of Murder Victims assists families from the investigative phase of a case, through the preliminary hearing, and up to sentencing. An advocate will attend court proceedings to answer family member’s questions, provide emotional support, and act as a liaison between the Assistant District Attorney and detectives, while providing case status updates to co-victims and directing families to the resources they need.
  • Anti-Violence Partnership offers free, professional counseling by licensed social workers to adult and child co-victims of homicide and those who have been traumatized by other forms of violence. 
  • EMIR Healing Center offers experienced advocates who accompany victims and witnesses throughout the legal and personal healing processes, including in-person support to families during criminal court proceedings, trauma counseling and assistance with preparing victim impact statements.
  • Center City Crime Victim Services: 1315 Walnut Street, Suite 320; 215-665-9680
  • Northwest Victim Services: 6023 Germantown Avenue; 215-438-4410
  • North Central Victim Services: 1538 Cecil B. Moore Avenue; 215-763-3280
  • Northeast Victim Services: 8014 Castor Avenue; 215-332-3888
  • Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia: 1426 S. 12th Street; 215-551-3360
  • West/Southwest Victim Services: 5548 Chestnut Street, Suite 2; 215-748-7780

 

Protection from Abuse Orders

What is a Protection from Abuse Order?
A Protection from Abuse (PFA) Order is the same thing as a restraining order. Under the Protection from Abuse Act, you have the right to go to court and ask a judge to grant a PFA order, which can set limits on the contact that the person who committed the acts of abuse can have with the person who requests the order. A PFA is a civil order, not a criminal order. The violation of a PFA is a criminal matter and could be addressed by the police and/or the District Attorney’s Office. The court order may include any of the following:

  • Stopping the abuser from further acts of abuse;
  • Evicting the abuser from your household;
  • Keeping the abuser from going to your home, school, or job;
  • Giving you or the other parent temporary custody of, or temporary visitation, with your child or children.

It is important to note that a PFA is not a guarantee of safety Ð it is one tool that can be used to deter one person from abusing another and is only one part of a comprehensive safety plan. Victims of domestic violence may also be interested in registering with PA SAVIN, PennsylvaniaÕs offender release notification service.

If you would like assistance or information related to other steps you can take to increase your safety, please call the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-866-SAFE-014 or contact the Victim/Witness Services Unit at 215-686-8027. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.

How can I receive a Protection from Abuse Order?
The Protection from Abuse Act focuses on preventing abuse between family or household members, sexual or intimate partners, or persons who have children together. You may be eligible if such a person:

  • Injured you or is trying to injure you (physically or sexually);
  • Is threatening to harm you;
  • Is preventing you from going somewhere;
  • Is abusing or has abused minor children (physically or sexually); or
  • Is stalking you so that you become afraid of getting hurt.

Under the Protection from Abuse Act (PFA), you have the right to go to court and ask a judge to grant a PFA order. PFAs set limits on the contact an abuser has with the person who requests the order. If you would like assistance or information call the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-866-SAFE-014 or contact the Victim/Witness Services Unit at 215-686-8027. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.

I have a Protection from Abuse Order and it has been violated. What do I do?
Call 911 immediately and report the violation. Once the police arrive at your location, you may be asked to show a copy of the Protection from Abuse Order. It is therefore recommended that you keep a copy with you at all times. Pennsylvania State Police and Philadelphia Police keep a record of all active protection orders, so the officer may need to confirm that your order is valid before making an arrest. 

Although a Protection from Abuse order is not a criminal order, violation of a Protection from Abuse order is a crime and is subject to criminal prosecution. Note: Police will NOT evict your abuser from your home unless the order specifically states “eviction.”

I received a Stay Away Order in court. Is that the same thing as a Protection from Abuse Order?
No. Stay Away Orders are temporary, are issued by Judges, and are only good for one year or until the associated criminal case is resolved. Additionally, Stay Away Orders are not entered into the police computer system. For a permanent Protection from Abuse Order, you must go to 34 South 11th Street (8:30am-5:00pm) or the Criminal Justice Center (8:30am-5:00pm) and file for a Protection from Abuse Order. All active protection orders are recognized by the Pennsylvania State Police and the Philadelphia Police.

Appearing in Court

Do I need an attorney?
It is not necessary for victims and witnesses to have an attorney. The Assistant District Attorney for the Commonwealth represents your interests.

What should I do to prepare for court?

  • If you need assistance with transportation or language interpretation, please notify the Victim/Witness Services Unit at least two business days before your scheduled court appearance.
  • You may bring someone to court with you for support. 
  • If you do not speak English, please tell the 911 operators, police, and victim/witness coordinator or ADA what language you speak. They will find interpreters to assist you.
  • Dress appropriately. Court is a serious occasion, and dress should reflect that. Wearing hats or even chewing gum is generally not acceptable in court. You may also want to bring a sweater or dress warmly as the temperature in many courtrooms is on the cool side.
  • Make sure that you eat something before appearing in court, as you may need to spend several hours in the courtroom or waiting room. 
  • Bring your subpoena with you to court.  
  • Bring any photographs or documents that you think may be helpful in your case, including receipts for stolen or damaged property and estimates or bills for repaired property.

What can I expect in the courtroom?
The judge, the defendant, the defendant’s attorney, victims, witnesses, the Assistant District Attorney, and the police officers involved in the case will all be present in the courtroom. This is a formal proceeding that takes place in front of a judge and jury. When you are called to testify you will be sworn to tell the truth. The Assistant District Attorney will ask you what you know about the case. When the questioning is complete, the defendant’s attorney will then ask you questions about the case. The judge will only want to hear the facts pertaining to the particular case.

How long will I need to be in court?
The court process can be very long. Even if you were asked to arrive to court first thing in the morning, it is possible that you will need to wait for a large part of the day for your turn to be called to testify. Bring any medicines you will need through the course of the day, and provide for appropriate child care.

Is there a victim/witness waiting room?
The Office of the District Attorney operates waiting rooms for victims and witnesses, their families, and other support people. There are waiting rooms in both the Criminal Justice Center (1301 Filbert Street, Room 105) and Family Court (1501 Arch Street, 9th Floor).

How many times will I need to go to court?
The number of times you go to court depends on a lot of things, including the type of crime that was committed and whether or not everyone who is supposed to appear in court does so.

Will I be paid for my time as a witness?
You are entitled to a small fee for each time you have appeared in court. These fees cannot be paid until the case is finished. Ask the ADA about your fees on the last day of trial.

I need help getting to and from court. Is transportation assistance available?
Yes, but unfortunately only in limited cases. The Office of the District Attorney can only coordinate a ride for you if you are elderly, disabled, or traveling from out of state. If you require further assistance, please speak to the ADA working on your case or contact the Victim/Witness Services Unit for more information.

Is there parking available?
The District Attorney’s Office has negotiated a special parking rate for victims and witnesses attending court. Parking is available at the PPA AutoPark @ the Gallery Mall at 10th and Filbert Streets.

What if the defendant’s attorney contacts me?
Before your appearance in court, you may be contacted by the defendant’s attorney or an investigator working for the defendant. These people represent the defendant, not you. You can choose not to speak to this person – it is your decision. We suggest that you always know the identity of the person to whom you are speaking; ask for their name and phone number.

What if the defendant or his/her family contacts me?
It is a crime to harass, threaten, or intimidate a victim or witness in a case. It is also a crime for the defendant or anyone acting for the defendant to offer you money or any other benefit to change the statement you make in court or to “drop charges.” If any of these things occur, additional charges may be brought against the defendant.

If the defendant, his/her family or friends, or anyone else contacts, harasses, threatens, or intimidates you, call the District Attorney’s Victim/Witness Services Unit at 215-686-8027 for assistance. In an emergency, call 911.

Is information about my case confidential?
It is the policy of the Office of the District Attorney to maintain your privacy within certain limits. However, it is necessary to share information with District Attorney staff and other law enforcement and criminal justice agencies in order to move your case forward. Your phone number, e-mail address, and other personal information will not be provided to the defendant or his/her attorney. For further information contact the Victim/Witness Services Unit.

How can I find out if the offender in my case has been released from prison?
If you are a crime victim who would like to be contacted if the offender in your case has been released from prison, has escaped, or has been moved, you may register for offender release notification services. Please see page 12 for more information.

Family Violence and Sexual Assault

I think my child has been a victim of child abuse? What should I do?
If you suspect child abuse, call 911 immediately and seek medical assistance for the child. You can also contact one of the Office’s Victim Witness Coordinators at 215-686-8011 or 215-686-8084.

I am a victim of Sexual Assault. What should I do?
If you have been the victim of sexual assault, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Please call 911 or the Philadelphia Police Department Special Victims Unit at 215-685-3251 for transportation to the Philadelphia Sexual Assault Response Center (PSARC). 

Please do NOT shower, eat, drink, or smoke before going to the PSARC, as this may destroy evidence. At the PSARC, you will receive a comprehensive medical examination and treatment for possible sexually transmitted infections, and forensic evidence will be collected. You will also have the opportunity to be connected with a counselor who can offer support and answer your questions.

If you would like to report a past sexual assault, contact the Philadelphia Police Department Special Victims Unit at 215-685-3251. You may also contact Women Organized Against Rape (1617 JFK Boulevard, One Penn Center, Suite 1100, Philadelphia, PA 19103; 215-985-3333; or www.woar.org) a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting victims of sexual assault, for assistance.

I am the victim of domestic violence. What should I do?
Call 911 immediately. Your information will be referred to the police district you live in and officers will contact you regarding your complaint. For Crisis and Counseling services for victims of domestic violence please contact the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-866-SAFE-014.

 I am the victim in a domestic violence case and I want to drop charges. How do I drop charges?
The decision to file and/or drop charges in criminal cases belongs to the District Attorney’s Office. As the victim, your input related to the case will be considered, but the final decision about whether to drop or move forward with criminal charges is made by the District Attorney’s Office.

Where can I go for help?

Alternatives to Prosecution & Incarceration

What is diversion?
Diversion is an umbrella term for alternatives to trial and incarceration for crimes related to poverty, mental health, substance use and community stress. The goal of diversion is to make communities safer and healthier. These programs make Philadelphia safer because they address the underlying drivers of most quality of life crime. When an individual completes a diversion program, their criminal case will be closed and, depending on the diversion program, their charges may be withdrawn and expunged. 

Some diversion programs are pre-plea and the charges are held to give the defendant an opportunity to complete programming. The charges are withdrawn and expunged if the defendant is successful, or the charges are returned to the trial track for traditional prosecution. 

Other diversion programs are post-plea, which means the defendant pleads guilty or no contest and the defendant is given an opportunity to complete programming. If the defendant is successful, then incarceration can be avoided, or if unsuccessful the plea is accepted and the defendant is sentenced.

Who is eligible for diversion programs?
Every diversion program has its own eligibility criteria that can be found here. If someone is eligible for diversion, an Assistant District Attorney will convey the offer to an individual’s Defense Attorney. 

The Defense Attorney will then discuss the offer with their client. Upon accepting the offer, an individual’s criminal case will be sent to the assigned diversion program. If an individual rejects the diversion offer, or they do not complete the program, the charges are returned to the trial track for traditional prosecution or a conditional plea may be accepted and the defendant sentenced. 

What is Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD)?

Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition is most commonly referred to as ARD. These types of cases involve relatively minor offenses and defendants who are first time offenders. Such cases will only be placed in the ARD program after a careful review by the District Attorney’s Office. Defendants placed in the ARD program must agree to a probationary sentence with conditions imposed such as restitution to the victim, rehabilitative classes and/or community service. If the defendant completes the sentence, any record of the arrest may be expunged. If the defendant fails to complete the sentence, the case will go to trial. In minor assault type cases the victim must agree to ARD.

Reviewing Past Convictions

I have grounds to think my case should be reviewed. Who handles that?
The DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU).

How can the CIU review my case, or the case of my loved one?
To have the CIU review your case, please fill out our 16-page Submission and Consent Form. You or a loved one can also contact the CIU and request that we mail you a Submission and Consent Form. Please return the Submission and Consent Form to the below address:

Conviction Integrity Unit
Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office
3 S Penn Sq.
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Once the CIU receives your Submission and Consent Form, it will be placed in our queue to be reviewed. When the CIU reaches a decision regarding your submission, you will receive a letter in the mail regarding that decision.

How can I find out how long it will be until the CIU is able to review my case?
It is difficult to answer this question. The CIU receives hundreds of submissions a year, thus, we cannot predict how long it will take to review an individual submission and determine whether it merits a full CIU investigation. We do our very best to process each request for review as quickly as possible. Please be patient. We also ask you to please understand we cannot offer updates over the telephone.

How do I know whether the CIU received my letter or submission form?
An acknowledgement letter of receipt will be mailed to you. Once the CIU receives your letter or submission form, we will mail you an Acknowledgement Letter indicating that we received it. If you have not received an Acknowledgment Letter within 60 days after sending your submission, you or a loved one can call our office and speak to a paralegal who should be able to confirm whether we have received your submission.

If the CIU reviews my case, does that mean that I will be exonerated?
No. A CIU review of your case does not guarantee that we will accept your case or that we have concluded that you were wrongfully convicted. Every individual case is unique and requires an in-depth analysis and investigation by our CIU team of prosecutors and staff.

Does the CIU represent me as my attorney?
No. The CIU works for the District Attorney, the Chief law Enforcement Officer of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As such, CIU prosecutors are legally and ethically unable to offer legal advice to you. 

I received a rejection/declination letter from the CIU but I now have new information, can you look at my case again?
Yes. The CIU will consider resubmissions. If we receive a letter or Submission and Consent Form after we have closed a case and the resubmission contains new information not previously considered, we will send a Resubmission Acceptance Letter and your case will be placed in our Resubmission queue for review. 

If we receive a letter or Submission and Consent Form after we have closed a case that does NOT contain new information in it, we will send you a Resubmission Declination Letter.

I have a post-conviction attorney representing me, do they have to represent me for a CIU request to review my case?
No, not necessarily. If you are currently represented by an attorney, you should reach out to them to see if they are representing your case for a CIU review. If your attorney has agreed to represent you in your request for a CIU review, your attorney should submit the forms or a related letter submitting your case to us. 

If we receive a Submission and Consent Form and we note that the submitter is currently represented by an attorney, we will send that attorney a letter asking them if they are representing the submitter for a CIU review. If the attorney does not respond within 60 days, the CIU will process the Submission and Consent Form as a pro se submission. 

Once I send you my Submission and Consent Form, will you appear in Court for my PCRA?
No. As a general rule, the CIU only appears in Court on a particular case once the CIU has reviewed, investigated and determined that it is likely you were wrongfully convicted. If you just sent us your Submission and Consent Form and you have an open PCRA or other form of post-conviction litigation, another unit in the District Attorney’s Office will appear in Court and be responsible for your case.

Will you send me discovery in my case?
No. As a general rule, the CIU will not provide discovery until a case has been accepted for review, investigation and litigation. An exception to this rule is a Brady disclosure. 

Is the CIU part of the Innocence Project?
No. The CIU is a unit made up of prosecutors and staff that is part of the District Attorney’s Office. 

Private Criminal Complaints

What types of cases does the private criminal complaint unit handle?
This Unit handles misdemeanor offenses. Victims of felony offenses such as Aggravated Assault or Burglary should make a report to the Police Department. Below is a list of common misdemeanors:

  • Simple Assault
  • Terroristic Threats
  • Harassment by Communication
  • Theft under $2000 (except motor vehicles and firearms)
  • Bad Checks
  • Stalking
  • Unlawful Restraint
  • False Imprisonment
  • Criminal Mischief
  • Defiant Trespass
  • Unauthorized Use of Auto
  • Contempt of Court Order (Violation of Orders)

What do I need to file a private criminal complaint?
Complainant MUST have accused’s full name and address (home or work.) The Private Criminal Complaint (PCC) Unit has the same burden of proof as the police, so the complainant must be a witness or have a witness to the crime.

What will happen after I go to the Private Criminal Complaint Unit?
If your complaint is approved for prosecution, you will file it with the Municipal Court upon payment of a $39.10 fee. You will receive a court date in the Criminal Justice Center in approximately four weeks. No additional witnesses or evidence is necessary at the first listing.

Where do I go to file a private criminal complaint?
The District Attorney’s Criminal Complaint Unit, 1425 Arch St. 4th Floor, Phila. Pa. 19102, is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

What do I need to file a private criminal complaint?
Complainant MUST have the full name and address (home or work) of the accused. The Private Criminal Complaint (PCC) Unit has the same burden of proof as the police, so the complainant must be a witness or have a witness to the crime.

What will happen after I go to the Private Criminal Complaint Unit?
If your complaint is approved for prosecution, you will file it with the Municipal Court upon payment of a $39.10 fee. You will receive a court date in the Criminal Justice Center in approximately four weeks. No additional witnesses or evidence is necessary at the first listing.