The Public Participatory Defense Initiative

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On Thursday, November 30th 2017, signs outside of the Bonnell Building indicated some type of event being held in CCP’s auditorium. Walking along the main lobby, people from many cultural divides, were gathering for the purpose of networking with various resources in Philadelphia. Lawyers, grassroots volunteers ,ministers, as well as ex-convicts, were all in attendance.

Participatory defense was developed by a family in San Jose, California. Their ultimate goal was to provide services to help communities organize an effective support system for people who are defendants in criminal cases, their families, and communities. The program was mainly to prove how we as a people, can and do impact the outcome in the decision making of powers in the court system. The defense system that Participatory Defense services has helped several families restore the function, and joy to those who once lost hope in ever seeing justice. With the development of The Participatory Defense, there has been many success stories. One example came from a guest speaker, who found himself a defendant in a murder trial in which he was identified, because he was Hispanic and “looked like the guy”, according to a witness.

Under the hood of the system, you will find that there’s a set structure that the courts rely on in hopes of the defendant losing strength and accepting deals, because the defendant feels as though it is his or her’s only option. “Procedure of Intervention” is often used as with the previously mentioned fellow speaker. Ramon Sanchez, 28 years of age, husband and father of two, was being accused of murder; and because of a line-up witness who stated “he looked like the guy” caused him to lose seven months of his life. Ramon and family went above and beyond to get his name cleared, although the courts painted him as being called “The Shooter” and “Gang member” who masterminded a murder. Ramon was released from his public defender, and could not afford the $100,000.00 retainer fee requested by defense attorney’s, leaving him to conquer his war on justice alone. This resulted in him taking independent steps usually handled by an attorney, including a request of his discovery package, correcting the inconsistencies, and even taking a step further  by volunteering for and passing not one, but two lie detector tests. Two days before his preliminary hearing, Ramon’s charges were dismissed. He fought to restore his name along with the mental effects of being not only imprisoned, but in “The hole” , where a convict is allowed out one hour per two days. He done so successfully.

He is currently back at Coca-Cola, now as a distributor, making at least twice the salary previously earned. His new position has one of the greatest perks; he is able to travel and be an active member of the Participatory Defense Initiative. With the development and growth of The Participatory Defense there have been many success stories. Due to the support from these services, Ramon had won the first “factual finding case’ in California in twenty-five years. The organization also assists in many acquittals, turning time served into time saved. This process showed public defenders, social workers, and legal aid that they too, have that power to be a powerhouse of change. Many people don’t deal with the system, simply because large groups of people don’t trust it.

At least 20 organizations are coming together to aid in fixing these issues. Some of the organizations include, Center for Law and Society at CCP, The Defender Association, People’s Paper Co-Op, Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project, Goldring Reentry Initiative, Broad Street Ministry, Philadelphia Reentry Think Tank, Black Lives Matter, and The Youth Arts Empowerment project which is also dubbed with the hashtag #NoJail215.

 

Contact Karita Goyal for further information via email at [email protected]

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