2019 Defender Highlights



It was a truly great year for the Defender Association of Philadelphia! In 2019, the hard work of our practice units, community partnerships, and other departments led to some major achievements and accomplishments! 
Here are some highlights:  


We welcomed a diverse and talented class of new attorneys…


Our work sparked a major dialogue on police accountability and “stop and frisk”  in the City of Philadelphia…
Marijuana smell from cars is the least of the Philadelphia Police Department’s problems | Editorial
They know this is a black guy here’: Police stops of black drivers are skyrocketing in Philadelphia
What happens when Philly police get body cameras — but don’t turn them on?


We launched our Pre-Entry Coalition with a successful event
at CCP…
READ MORE: Coalition aims to support people who are arrested


Our entire team won major victories for our clients–and for criminal justice reform!
READ MORE: Michael White Not Guilty of Voluntary Manslaughter in Rittenhouse Stabbing Trial
READ MORE: Pa. Supreme Court cites ‘egregious error,’ frees Philly man jailed by Meek Mill’s judge for probation violations


Our Adult Social Services team had their work included in two University of Pennsylvania textbooks!


Working with our community partners, we successfully crowdfunded a campaign to win a $100k Melinda R. Farrow Fund (of the Philadelphia Foundation) grant for Participatory Defense Hubs!
Philly Defenders on the way to a Phillies game, casting their votes for the Participatory Defense Hubs!



Nearly 50 Defender clients received assistance from the Hubs this year!


Defenders were all over the city, conducting expungement clinics and sharing information and resources with the community!


Our IT department made news for their outstanding work and leadership in digital forensics…
READ MORE: Imagine Being on Trial. With Exonerating Evidence Trapped on Your Phone.
READ MORE: Still scarce, Digital-Forensics Crawls into Public Defenders Offices


The Alternative Sentencing Unit had another busy and productive 2019, filing over 1,350 Early Termination Petitions and working to get early parole for eligible clients!
Alternative Sentencing Unit Director Byron Cotter with the latest New Leash on Life USA graduating class! These clients were paroled early into internships.


Our Children and Youth Justice (formerly Juvenile) Unit made a real difference this year, from establishing community office hours, joining a citywide task force dedicated to reducing placements in favor of supportive services, launching Project success, and so much more!


The Appeals Division continued its tradition of winning relief for clients who received unjust trials or sentences. Defender attorneys also won changes to the law in the PA Supreme Court! 
OPINION: JUSTICE DONOHUE. The issue presented in this case asks for a determination of what constitutes a permissible basis for a court to find an individual in violation of probation…
OPINION: JUSTICE TODD. The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine prohibits the admission of evidence at trial that was tainted byby unconstitutional actions by law enforcement officials…

Keir Bradford-Grey on Selection of New Police Chief

PHILADELPHIA–“The Defender Association of Philadelphia congratulates and welcomes Philadelphia’s new Police Commissioner, Danielle Outlaw.
“As Philadelphia’s Public Defender, our work has been a driving force behind renewed calls for more effective policing, particularly as it relates to law enforcement practices in the city’s black and brown neighborhoods. Mayor Kenney’s selection of the city’s first African American woman to this crucial position demonstrates a recognition of the need for reforms and improved relationships between Philly’s police officers and communities. 
“The police play a pivotal role in ensuring that those accused of crimes are given a fair trial. The Defender Association welcomes the opportunity to share what we’ve learned from our expansive pool of police accountability data with our new police chief. We’re hopeful for a productive working relationship that will ensure that our justice system provides every Philadelphia citizen with the fairness, respect, and dignity they deserve.”

Philly.com: Philly leaders want to end cash bail. Can they agree on how?

The Defender Association has a plan to re-imagine Philadelphia’s pretrial system that prioritizes community involvement over cash bail – without using a risk assessment.

Read the full story on Philly.com. 

Philadelphia’s chief public defender, Keir Bradford-Grey, has pitched the FJD, the District Attorney and City Council on an entirely different proposal: a way to eliminate money bail in Philadelphia without using a risk-assessment tool. Under this process, most defendants charged with misdemeanors would be arrested but, instead of going through a bail hearing, would receive a summons to appear in court. According to Bradford-Grey, Philadelphia is the only county in the state that does not already use the summons process for lower-level offenses.

A flow chart from the Defender Association depicting a proposal to eliminate cash bail in Philadelphia.


A flow chart from the Defender Association depicting a proposal to eliminate cash bail in Philadelphia.

Those held on more serious charges would go before a magistrate for a preliminary arraignment hearing where money bail would not even be on the table. Instead, the magistrate could decide to release the defendant on his own recognizance or impose other conditions, perhaps phone reporting or electronic monitoring. Only in cases where the defendant is a flight risk or a perceived danger to the community would the District Attorney file a detention motion — which would result in a release-determination hearing, where a judge could decide to detain the defendant or to set high bail.

“This system allows for individualized determinations and ends the practice of incarcerating people simply because they cannot afford bail,” Bradford-Grey said in her testimony to City Council.


Nation’s first youth participatory defense hub opens this week in Philadelphia

For further information, contact:
Josh Glenn, YASP – 267-407-8135
Mandy Nace, Defender Association – 267-765-6319

PHILADELPHIA (April 1, 2019) The Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project (YASP), an advocacy group that supports children charged as adults in the city’s criminal justice system, today announced the launch of the nation’s first participatory defense hub specifically for children and youth entangled in the criminal justice system with support from the Defender Association of Philadelphia and other organizations committed to youth justice.

Participatory defense hubs help individuals and families navigate the criminal justice system with community support. Community organizers working with Silicon Valley De-Bug created the participatory defense model in San Jose, California and have worked to open hubs in cities and towns across the country. The Youth Participatory Defense Hub is Philadelphia’s fourth active community hub – but will be the first in the city and in the nation dedicated to children and youth navigating the juvenile delinquency system and children charged as adults.

“When I was younger, I had to navigate the court system and deal with lawyers and judges largely on my own. It would have been really helpful to have a space like this that I could go to for support,” reflected YASP Co-Director Josh Glenn. “We hope this hub can help young people feel more empowered as their cases move through the system, and lead to more young people remaining at home with their families and able to access the support and guidance they need in our communities.”

The Youth Participatory Defense Hub will meet every Tuesday from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. at the Institute for Community Justice at 1207 Chestnut Street, Second floor. Hub facilitators and volunteers will support youth and families through the justice process, providing support on court dates, and helping them create social biographies to present themselves as more than a case file. Participatory defense hubs do not offer legal advice pertaining to the facts of a case but will share general information to help prepare for meetings with their attorney.

The Defender Association of Philadelphia provides “Know Your Systems” training and guidance to Philadelphia’s participatory defense hubs and supports the expansion of the program to more neighborhoods throughout the city.

“Participatory defense is transforming the landscape of power in the criminal justice system by engaging our communities,” said Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey. “The need for this type of support for children and youth is so critical. Children caught up in the juvenile system and their parents who go to the Youth Participatory Defense Hub will get information and support to help them make better decisions and get better outcomes. Meaningful criminal justice reform starts in our communities, and the Defender Association is proud to support organizations like YASP to support children and youth through the justice process through this new hub.”

Raj Jayadev, an organizer for SV De-Bug and the National Participatory Defense Networks, applauded the effort. “The launch of YASP’s youth centered participatory defense hub really is an inspiration for communities across the country who are looking for ways to flex community power and knowledge to protect our young people in the most proximate and tangible ways.”

The Institute for Community Justice (ICJ), a Program of Philadelphia FIGHT, will host the new hub in its Center City Offices at 1207 Chestnut Street, Second Floor.

“I’m thrilled that the idea of a participatory defense hub to support our children is becoming reality,” added Leola Hardy, Chief of the Defender Association’s Children and Youth Justice Unit. “Time after time we see our clients and their families struggling to navigate the system. Our team of attorneys, social workers, and administrative professionals work hard to support them through the system but this new hub will bring community into the process and support better outcomes for our kids. I’m so proud of all the work YASP has done to open this new hub.”

The Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project (YASP) is building a youth-led movement to end the practice of trying and incarcerating young people as adults. Through its work in the Philadelphia jails, YASP provides space for incarcerated young people to express themselves creatively and to develop as leaders both within and beyond the prison walls. Young people who have been through the adult court system are at the forefront of YASP, leading the movement to keep young people out of adult prisons and to create new possibilities for youth around the city.

The Defender Association is an independent, nonprofit organization that provides high-quality, client-centered legal representation, connection to social services, and re-entry support to adults and juveniles in Philadelphia. Our organization represents nearly 70 percent of adults and juveniles arrested in the City of Philadelphia. Learn more about our work at phillydefenders.org, or on social media @PhillyDefenders.

Honoring Gideon’s Legacy: Public Defense Week 2019

Clarence Earl Gideon’s determination to seek justice in his own case led to justice for countless Americans through access to a public defender.

Each year, the anniversary of the Court’s March 18, 1963 release of its opinion on the case, provides a valuable opportunity to celebrate our work and reflect on its importance in an ever-evolving criminal justice system.

The Defender Association of Philadelphia’s history predates the Supreme Court’s 1963 ruling in the case of Gideon vs. Wainwright that “any person hauled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.” But in the 56 years since Gideon guaranteed the right to counsel, we have made great strides in delivering on that promise.

Defender Fall 2018 class

Our defenders continue the tradition of zealous, client-centered representation while at the same time assuming a larger role in collaborative effort to reform the criminal justice system. As the community’s lawyers, the Defender Association’s insight and experience are critical to transforming the justice system into one that is fundamentally fair, effectively uses taxpayer dollars, and promotes public safety.

Commitment to True Reform

Defenders are the community’s lawyers, representing nearly 70 percent of all criminal cases in Philadelphia. This not only affords us the opportunity to protect due process rights for these people – but to identify areas of the justice process that too often fall short – and perpetuate mass incarceration and racial biases that plague our system.

Our experience not only helps us to understand these problems but to identify and advance solutions.

Reimagining our pretrial and probation and parole systems are essential to meaningful criminal justice reform.

Reimagining Pretrial Justice

Defender Client Advocate Evan Dubchansky
Defender Client Advocate Evan Dubchansky

Andrew Pappas
Andrew Pappas, Assistant Chief of Municipal Court Pretrial Unit

Philadelphia’s jails are crowded with people who are imprisoned pretrial – in large part because of cash bail and probation detainers. The Defender is working with justice partners through the MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge to reduce our jail population and the Defender is looking for additional system improvements that prevent people from becoming more desperate as they spend weeks or months in jail when they are presumed innocent.  

Through the Early Bail Review program, a MacArthur-funded initiative, Defender attorneys team up with our bail navigators and client advocates to help people who were given cash bail they could not afford. Client advocate Evan Dubchansky spends most mornings in Philadelphia jails, listening to people’s stories and circumstances and developing a plan for them to be successful pretrial – outside of a jail cell. Evan then shares the notes with attorneys who represent clients at EBR hearings. Andrew Pappas, the Defender’s Assistant Chief of Municipal Court Pretrial Unit, conveys the information in a hearing before a judge that can often lead to the client going home to his or her community before trial.

Changing the Culture of “Mass Supervision”

Byron Cotter Victoria Sanita
Defender Alternative Sentencing Unit Assistant Chief Victoria Sanita and Chief Byron Cotter

In a city where one in 22 Philadelphians is on probation or parole, the Defenders’ Alternative Sentencing Unit works hard to support transparency and fairness. Nearly half of Philadelphia’s pretrial jail population sit in cells when a detainer is lodged for a possible violation of probation or parole. Until recently, hearings to challenge detainers happened without the participation of the person in jail. Working with justice partners, attorneys like Byron Cotter, Chief of the Defender’s Alternative Sentencing Unit and Assistant Chief Victoria Sanita, pushed for changes that now allow a person to participate in their detainer hearing remotely. This leads to more of the circumstances surrounding the possible violation to be considered and for more people to return to their communities pretrial.

Supporting Better Outcomes Through Client-Centered Legal Advocacy

Thurgood Matthews
Thurgood Matthews

The Defender Association’s hardworking team of attorneys, investigators, social workers, mitigators, and administrative professionals work inside and outside of court rooms to help our clients get fair outcomes in their cases. Our innovative training model, mentoring program, and zealous work in cases provide clients with high-quality representation and service. Defender attorneys like Thurgood Matthews, with decades of experience, advise and mentor new attorneys from every unit, helping to foster a sense of community and a wealth of collective information to help our clients. Learn more about Thurgood’s work here.

Making A Strong Case in Jury Trials

William Weiss, Alex DeSimone, Kenneth Williams, and Victoria Clark
William Weiss, Alex DeSimone, Kenneth Williams, and Victoria Clark

In early 2019, Defenders’ work resulted in more than 10 juries of Philadelphians returning verdicts of “not guilty,” allowing clients to receive the justice that Clarence Earl Gideon was initially denied more than a half century ago. Defenders like William Weiss, Alex DeSimone, Kenneth Williams, and Victoria Clark and others spend countless hours preparing cases to make sure that clients get the due process rights guaranteed to them in the Constitution.

Specialized Practice to Support All Clients

Luke Trama
Luke Trama

The Defender Association created a number of specialized practice units to support clients’ individual needs. Defender teams in our Children and Youth Justice, Juvenile Special Defense, Appeals, Prison Services, Alternative Sentencing, Special Defense, Homicide, and other units tailor their focus to provide high-quality representation. Luke Trama, an attorney in the Defender’s Mental Health Unit, represents clients with mental health concerns at every stage of the justice process. By working closely with his clients and learning their individual circumstances, stories, and challenges, Luke ensures that judges, district attorneys, and others see a complete picture of clients to prevent them from being harshly or unfairly punished.

Continuing Our Legacy with Community Support

Gideon v. Wainwright established the role of public defenders as a permanent part of the criminal justice system, but the Defender Association of Philadelphia continues to go above and beyond for clients and communities thanks to ongoing support from Philadelphia City Council members and City administration who recognize our value to the city. Each year, we seek new ways to protect the rights of our clients while helping to create a criminal justice system that is fundamentally fair, effectively uses tax dollars, and promotes the safety and strength of our communities.


It Takes A Community: Honoring Participatory Defense Pioneers

On Wednesday, Feb. 27, Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey, along with participatory defense founder and Stoneleigh Fellow Raj Jayadev, honored five individuals whose work has been integral to the successful launch of participatory defense in Philadelphia in 2018. Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. was also recognized as a Community Justice Champion award for his ongoing support of the initiative.

In the year since the first of Philadelphia’s community participatory defense hubs opened in March 2018, community members supported dozens of cases, leading to better outcomes, stronger communities, and work toward a fundamentally fair and effective criminal justice system.

Congratulations to this year’s honorees:

Community Justice Champion
Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.

Keir Bradford-Grey and Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.

Participatory Defense Visionary
Dorothy Johnson-Speight
Mothers in Charge “Best Outcomes” Participatory Defense Hub

Dorothy Johnson-Speight

Participatory Defense Community Connector
Akeem Sims
Kingsessing Participatory Defense Hub

Participatory Defense First Responder
Kris Eden
South Philly Participatory Defense Hub

(not pictured)

Participatory Defense Superstar Volunteer
Angela Canales
Philadelphia Participatory Defense Network

Angela Canales

Participatory Defense Superstar Volunteer
Fran Gilmore
Philadelphia Participatory Defense Network

Fran Gilmore

Special thanks to the Philadelphia Ethical Society and the Stoneleigh Foundation for their generous support of this year’s event.

Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey featured on 6abc Visions

Philadelphia’s work to advance criminal justice reform is gaining local, state, and national attention.

In February, 6abc devoted a portion of its Visions program to the city’s criminal justice reform movement, through the perspectives of individuals on the front lines.

Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey talked about the Defender Association’s work to reform the pre-trial system, end cash bail, and empower communities to play a larger role in transforming the criminal justice process.



Defender Association teams up with South Philly Hub and Unity in the Community on expungement clinic

The Defender Association teamed up with the South Philly Participatory Defense Hub and Unity in the Community to host a unique neighborhood expungement clinic at Classics Hub Barbershop in South Philadelphia.

Defender attorneys helped individuals to file expungements – the first step toward a clean record and a fresh start.

The first attendee at the event shared stories about being rejected from job opportunities because of his past and hopes that by filing for expungement, he can seek better employment opportunities.

Philly.com writer Helen Ubinas set up a “mobile newsroom” at the event to help capture the stories of attendees. Read more about it in Philly.com.

Thanks to all of our partners for working together on this fantastic community event.

Learn more about the expungement process here.

Shift Fund and the Defender Association of Philadelphia team up to help 72 people get a clean record and a fresh start

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In coordination with the Defender Association and the Philadelphia Courts, the Shift Fund paid outstanding court fees ranging from $10 to $150 for Philadelphia-area individuals enrolled in the Accelerated Misdemeanor Program (AMP1), allowing them to complete the program and have their arrest records expunged.

In many cases, a closed case and expunged record allows people to get back to meaningful parts of their lives:

  • B is a 23 year-old trying to go back to school to further his education. He completed 18 hours of community service but because he was unable to pay his fines in full, his open case kept him from applying for financial aid for college. B is now in the process of applying for college and pursuing a career.
  • G is a 65 year-old living on a fixed income. She completed 18 hours of community service on time, and she’s come to court every six weeks for the next year making payments of $5 or $10 each time. Medical issues made it difficult for her to travel back and forth to court. Now that her court fees have been paid, she no longer needs to make the trip.
  • S is a 34 year-old mother of two. She completed her required 12 hours of community service but was having difficulty paying the court costs.  The open case and upcoming court dates kept her from moving back to New York, closer to her family and the assistance they could provide with childcare.

AMP1 allows some first-time, non-violent offenders to complete community service hours and pay fines rather than face a criminal conviction. AMP1 participants who complete their community service hours and pay a portion of their court costs are free from having to return to court, but only defendants who pay 100% of their court costs can file for expungement and erase their criminal records.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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