By Tony Romeo

HARRISBURG (CBS) – With witness intimidation rampant in Philadelphia, the state Supreme Court has decided to once again allow Pennsylvania grand juries to bring indictments in criminal cases.

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Grand juries can investigate and recommend charges in Pennsylvania, but haven’t had the power to indict since the mid 1970’s.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams lobbied for the change to bring back indicting grand juries.

“Instead of having to bring witnesses, many of whom are victims of intimidation , instead of bringing them into a preliminary hearing where the defendant is there and the defendant’s friends are all there, an indicting grand jury is a grand jury run by the judge,” Williams said.

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The witnesses will testify in secret before the grand jury instead of in public, at a preliminary hearing, although the witnesses will still have to testify in open court when and if the case goes to trial.

Williams says the indicting grand juries will only be used in “specific and select cases” where witnesses may be threatened.

The new policy takes effect in 180 days.

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