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We prosecute people who commit violent crimes, seeking justice on behalf of victims and their families.

One of our most important responsibilities is to bring to justice those who take the lives of others.   

Prosecutors in the Homicide and Non-Fatal Shootings Unit seek justice on behalf of victims and their families by pursuing serious crimes to the fullest extent of the law.

As we seek fair and just outcomes, we work hard to communicate with victims and their families at every step of the process. Our CARES Peer Crisis Responders help connect families to resources in the immediate aftermath of a homicide and our Victim/Witness coordinators engage families as the cases are prepared for trial.

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“Often the only real difference in these non-fatal shootings is the shooter’s aim or medical intervention. The shooter’s criminal intent is just as serious as in a homicide.”

LARRY KRASNER
District Attorney
City of Philadelphia

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DATA LAB: MEASURING JUSTICE

  • Despite difficulties with court closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 the time to complete homicide cases DECREASED by 10% compared to the 2014-2017 average.
  • In 2020, despite court closures and other problems with hearing cases, the DAO securedconvictions in 78% of homicide and 70% of non-fatal shooting cases.
  • In 2020, the Homicide/NFS unit handled 1303 cases, which includes 566 non-fatal shootings.

 

HOMICIDES & NON-FATAL SHOOTINGS: IMPROVING PUBLIC SAFETY

Individuals who commit violent crimes must face swift consequences to reduce threats to public safety. With those individuals off the street, we mitigate trauma for victims and their families.

In September 2018, we merged two separate units to form the Homicides & Non-Fatal Shootings Unit so that specially-trained attorneys are now assigned from the start of each shooting case.

As many of these crimes are often retaliatory—potential cases in which an attempted murder or an aggravated assault leads to someone else being shot or killed—we now have prosecutors work together on both homicides and non-fatal shootings, strengthening our investigative capacity to help us prevent incidents of retaliatory violence.

Shooting cases also move faster as a result of the changes the District Attorney’s Office sought in partnership with the courts. Instead of taking months to reach preliminary hearing, non-fatal shooting cases are now expedited and presented in front of a homicide judge on a preliminary hearing day designated solely for these cases.

HOMICIDES & NON-FATAL SHOOTINGS: HOW IT WORKS

When a homicide or non-fatal shooting incident occurs, we get involved very early on.

Supervisors of our Homicide and Non-Fatal Shootings Unit work closely with the Philadelphia Police Department to assist with solving crimes and legal matters. Our CARES Peer Crisis Responders arrive on the scene to provide support to homicide survivors. 

With enough to establish probable cause for an arrest, we present a warrant for a judge’s approval. After the police make an arrest, defendants go before a magistrate to hear their charges and enter a plea. 

In cases where the charges are first-degree or second degree murder, there’s no possibility of bail. If it’s a lower degree of criminal homicide, then bail is set at preliminary arraignment by a magistrate, which can take ten or more days. After preliminary arraignment, we begin trial preparations.  

Our attorneys and Victim/Witness Coordinators attend each hearing to keep victims’ families informed and connected to grief counseling and other community resources. All to help wrap their minds around their new reality. 

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UNIT TEAM LEADERSHIP

Supervisor:
Chesley Lightsey
[email protected]
Assistant Supervisors:
Sherrell Dandy
[email protected]
Joanne Pescatore
[email protected]

HOMICIDES & NON-FATAL SHOOTINGS: OUR APPROACH

Prosecutorial discretion is a power that our office is committed to wielding responsibly in all cases.

We have no tolerance for the abuse of prosecutorial discretion. We work to ensure that power is kept in check by setting up systems to review each prosecutor’s decisions from warrant preparation to trial and sentencing.

At all times, four attorneys (including two of the three supervisors within our unit) are on call: 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Every warrant that involves a homicide—whether it’s to search a car, obtain phone records or access a social media account—is reviewed by on-call prosecutors. 

A committee, comprised of the District Attorney, the two First Assistant District Attorneys, Homicide Unit Supervisors and other unit supervisors, reviews sentence recommendations in every homicide case where the sentence could exceed 15 years in prison.