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Philadelphia Police ‘Failure to Appear’ Stalls Justice

December 04, 2023

Sandy Mayson, Professor of Law
Sandy Mayson, Professor of Law

At The Philadelphia Inquirer, Prof. Sandy Mayson writes that court absenteeism by police officers, witnesses, and private attorneys has serious consequences.

Recent research by Sandy Mayson, Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, and three colleagues—including both a criminology professor and doctoral student at Penn as well as a former fellow of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice—has found that Philadelphia police officers failed to appear in 31 percent of cases for which they were subpoenaed, derailing justice and stalling cases.

Mayson, along with Aurelie Ouss, University of Pennsylvania criminology professor; Megan Stevenson, Professor of Law and Economics at the University of Virginia; and Lindsay Graf, doctoral candidate in criminology at Penn, explain their findings and the implications of their research at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Stevenson and Mayson were both fellows at the Quattrone Center, a nonpartisan, national research and policy hub at Penn Carey Law.

From The Philadelphia Inquirer:

A staggering number of cases set for trial in Philadelphia don’t proceed because someone essential to the hearing did not show up.

Court absenteeism, usually called “failure to appear,” has gotten plenty of attention when it comes to defendants. We have intensive and invasive systems in place to prevent no-shows, including cash bail, pretrial detention, and pretrial supervision, during which defendants are tracked by a pretrial services officer.

But the policy discussion around failure to appear has missed an important fact: Most of those who fail to appear are not defendants. They are police officers, civilian witnesses, and private lawyers.

We analyzed data from the Philadelphia courts and the District Attorney’s Office between 2010 and 2020. Over that decade, an essential police officer, civilian witness, or lawyer failed to appear for at least one hearing in 53% of all cases. While defendants missed their court dates in only 19% of cases, police officers failed to appear in 31% of cases for which they were subpoenaed.

Most of the data preceded the tenure of current District Attorney Larry Krasner, and the failure to appear rates didn’t change when he took office.

Failure to appear on this scale has serious consequences… .

Mayson researches and writes in the fields of criminal law, constitutional law, and legal theory, with a focus on the role of preventive restraint in the criminal legal system. Her academic work draws on her experience as a trial lawyer at Orleans Public Defenders, where she represented indigent clients in criminal proceedings and trained public defenders on immigration-sensitive defense practice.

Read the full piece at The Philadlephia Inquirer.