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VICTIMS & WITNESSES

Advocating relentlessly for the victims of crime.

Our liaisons have no higher duty than to prevent the next victimization and to serve victims of crime.  

One of the DAO’s primary missions is to prevent more people from becoming victims. Victims, no matter the crime, experience a sense of violation and loss of power.  

Our job as Victim & Witness Liaisons is to limit any further trauma, ease the burden of new legal responsibilities, and help ensure victims’ voices are heard throughout the criminal justice process.  

Our Victim & Witness Liaisons do this by providing information and ensuring victims understand their legal responsibilities and the legal process. Our liaisons listen carefully to victims, giving them an opportunity to convey what outcome they want to see in their case and why. 

Our goal is for victims to feel—no matter how things turn out—that their rights as victims and witnesses were upheld, and their experience, perspective and opinions were taken into account.   

 For homicide survivors, our CARES Peer Crisis Responders are there even earlier—in the aftermath of an incident, whether that’s at the crime scene, in hospital hallways or at the medical examiner’s office, all the way through preliminary hearings.  

In addition to providing support through their criminal legal cases, liaisons also help victims and witnesses heal from what can be a traumatic experience by connecting them to community resources and services that best fit their needs.  

In all we do, the safety and well-being of victims and witnesses remain paramount. From regularly asking check-in questions about their physical, mental and emotional safety to setting up relocations when necessary, we make sure victims are not revictimized as they are engaged in the legal process.  

 

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“Keziah Cameron has served victim witnesses for 17 years under four Philadelphia District Attorneys. Her institutional knowledge of intragovernmental services to support victims of crime and trial witnesses qualifies her to lead this unit during a critical period of growth and institutionalize significant changes.” 

LARRY KRASNER
District Attorney
City of Philadelphia

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YOUR SAFETY IS OUR PRIORITY

Standing up and testifying against people accused of crimes takes courage and it plays a critical part in keeping your family, friends and our city safer.
When called for, we put together a safety plan, doing everything we can to keep witnesses safe and secure—from arranging transportation to and from the courtroom, accompanying them to court and securing a separate waiting room while there, to more serious legal measures.    
The District Attorney’s Office takes seriously any attempt to intimidate a victim or witness from testifying about a crime. In such cases, it is our policy to use all legal tools at our disposal, including restrictive bail conditions, criminal contempt, and additional criminal charges and sanctions. 
If you feel you are being harassed, please contact the Philadelphia Police Department: 215-685-1158. If you feel you are in danger right now, call 911. Report any harassment you’re experiencing to the Victim & WItness Liaison and the Assistant District Attorney assigned to your criminal case. If you’re not sure who to contact, call the Victim & Witness Services Unit: 215-686-8027 or email [email protected].

VICTIMS: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS

As a victim of crime in Pennsylvania, you have the right to:

Information. Receive information about the services available for victims of crime.  

Accompaniment. Be accompanied by a family member, victim advocate or other support person at all criminal and juvenile proceedings.  

Commentary. Submit a comment to the prosecutor’s office on the dropping or reducing of any charge, or changing of a plea, in cases involving burglary, personal injury, or driving under the influence resulting in bodily injury.   

Submit a comment prior to any release decisions of an offender from state prisons.   

Notification. Receive notification, and information on any relevant conditions imposed, when an offender is released or escapes from a local correctional facility in cases involving personal injury.  

Receive notification when an offender is released or escapes from a state prison. Receive notification when an offender is committed to—or is discharged, transferred or escapes from—a mental health facility in a state prison. 

Restitution. Get help in making a claim with the state’s Victims’ Compensation Fund. 

 The defendant, if found guilty, may be required to pay for all the financial damages and expenses you incurred as a result of the crime. Eligible expenses include things like damaged or stolen property, as well as any medical expenses. Download, complete and return a Restitution Form >> 

VICTIMS & WITNESSES: COURT PROCEDURE BASICS

“Why am I being subpoenaed as a witness when I’m the victim in the case?” 

Our Victim & Witness Liaisons get asked this question a lot, and it makes sense we do, because so much about the criminal justice system can be frightening, confusing and frustrating. That’s why we address the needs of victims and witnesses with care, sensitivity and discretion. 

In response to this frequent question, we let victims know that they as victims are also technically “the complaining witness,” which is why they’re required to come to court to testify to help prosecutors to make a case against a defendant, while acknowledging there are a lot of new words, concepts, and processes victims and witnesses now must learn, on top of managing the physical, emotional and mental stress of what happened to them. 

Victims and witnesses want to know exactly what’s going to happen when they come to court, so we walk them through the following steps.

If you are scheduled to appear in Court and haven’t heard from your victim witness liaison, or if don’t know who your liaison is, or can’t reach your assigned one, call our Victim & Witness Services Unit: 215-686-8027 or e-mail [email protected]

Once a trial sate is set
  • Arrange for your Victim & Witness Liaison or another court advocate through an outside agency to accompany you to court. For court proceedings, it is not necessary for you to secure a separate attorney as the Assistant District Attorney from our office is representing your interests in the case. 
  • Get assistance with transportation if you are elderly, disabled, or traveling from out of state. We need at least two business days before your scheduled court appearance to make these arrangements.
  • Secure language interpretation services. For this, we also need at least two business days before your scheduled court appearance to make these arrangements.
  • Make sure you arrange for appropriate child care for the day of the trial.
On the morning of the trial
  • Dress appropriately. Court is a serious matter, and everyone’s dress should reflect that. 
  • Eat something before appearing in court and bring any medicines you will need as you may need to spend several hours in the waiting room and courtroom, possibly taking the entire day from early morning until the courts close. 
  • Park at the PPA AutoPark located at the Gallery Mall at 10th and Filbert streets, where the District Attorney’s Office has negotiated a special parking rate for victims and witnesses attending court.
Courtroom protocols & procedures
  • The judge, defendant(s), the defendant’s attorney(s), our office’s prosecutor, all victims and witnesses, victim advocates, police officers, sheriffs, and other court staff involved in the case may be present in the courtroom. 
  • Witnesses testify one at a time. While one testifies, the other witnesses may be asked to wait outside the courtroom. This can be frustrating for victims and witnesses, but please understand it’s commonly done to ensure that testimonies do not influence each other.
  • The Office of the District Attorney operates waiting rooms for victims and witnesses, their families, and other people there to support them in both the Criminal Justice Center (1301 Filbert Street, Room 105) and Family Court (1501 Arch Street, 9th Floor). For witnesses who are concerned about their safety while testifying, a separate waiting room can be arranged.
  • When it’s your turn to testify, you will be asked to come to the front of the courtroom to swear (or “affirm”) that you will tell the truth. The judge will want to hear only the facts that relate to the case. 
  • The prosecutor (ADA) from our office will ask you questions about the case, which you will be expected to answer to the best of your ability.
  • When the ADA has finished asking you questions, the defendant’s attorney will ask you questions. 
  • Once everyone testifies, all witnesses may re-enter the courtroom.
  • The number of times you will be asked to appear in court to testify depends on a lot of things, including the type of crime that was committed and who shows up to testify on the day of the trial.
  • Witnesses are entitled to a small fee for every court appearance. The total fee is paid after a case concludes. On the last day of trial, you can ask the ADA about your fee.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROCESS

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Preparing Children for Court 

When children are required to testify in court either as a victim or witness, they can become confused, anxious, and frightened. Our office’s Court School is designed to support our youngest through these challenges.  
Open to children between the ages of 4 and 16 who will be testifying, Court School sessions are run by a compassionate Victim & Witness Liaison specially-trained in working with children.  

VICTIMS & WITNESSES: SPECIAL CASES

Victims of Elder Abuse 

For victims of crime who are 60 years of age or older, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has designated a specially-trained Victim & Witness guide to assist and support them. 

Elder abuse is the abuse or exploitation of a person aged 60 or older by family members, caregivers and other perpetrators. This can include: 

  • Physical abuse by hitting, pushing, kicking and biting elderly people 
  • Emotional abuse through harassment, intimidation and threats 
  • Financial exploitation, such as abusing the power of attorney and the theft of monthly checks 
  • Sexual abuse, which means any sexual contact without consent 
  • Neglect by depriving elderly people of food, clothing, shelter, or medical care 
  • Violent crimes involving home invasions, robbery, assault, or carjacking 
  • Fraud, from scams involving telemarketing, door-to-door sales and free prize offers to fraudulent home repair and real estate operations 

VICTIMS & WITNESSES: SPECIAL CASES

Victims of Family Violence & Sexual Assault 

Domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and similar crimes are tragic, complicated crimes that often affect those most vulnerable in our communities.  

 The Family Violence & Sexual Assault unit handles cases involving family and intimate-partner violence, physical abuse, sexual assault, and failure to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law. This unit also reviews and prosecutes cases involving the most vulnerable victims, such as those who are victims of: child abuse and neglect, pornography and exploitation; elder abuse and neglect; and human trafficking. 

These cases are difficult to prosecute, since many of these crimes take place behind closed doors, out of sight from witnesses. Victims can also be conflicted about whether they should come forward, some even blaming themselves, or pressured by others to remain silent.  

 Our Family Violence & Sexual Assault unit works closely with our Victim & Witness Services team, along with other citywide partners, to connect victims with community resources and support at every step of the criminal justice system process, and promote healing from such intense trauma. 

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UNIT TEAM LEADERSHIP

Supervisor:
Keziah Cameron
[email protected]
Assistant Supervisor
Donna Woods
[email protected]