Philadelphia district attorney Larry Krasner has signaled an intention to drop the most severe murder charge against a man accused of stabbing someone in Rittenhouse Square last year. The victim's family has come out in vigorous opposition to the move but, while their anger has a valid point, the outrage and media attention betrays a lack of understanding about the process.
The Rittenhouse Square Stabbing
The stabbing happened in July 2018.
The defendant was riding his bicycle delivering food, while the victim was riding as a passenger in a Mercedes. They intersected near Rittenhouse Square, where they apparently had a verbal altercation.
The victim, who according to toxicology reports had a blood-alcohol content of 0.199 and cocaine in his system, got out of the car. He approached the defendant, who drew a knife. Surveillance video shows that, when the victim lunged at him, the defendant stabbed him in the back.
The defendant fled the scene and made attempts to conceal evidence, throwing the knife on top of a building to hide it and trying to delete information from his phone. However, he turned himself in to police a few days later and was charged with first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.
The defendant has maintained that he acted in self-defense.
Philadelphia District Attorney Looks to Drop Murder Charge
Soon after the arrest was made, district attorney Larry Krasner reviewed the evidence and decided to drop the charges from first-degree to third-degree murder. This allowed the defendant to make bail, which inspired the ire of the victim's family.
Now, Krasner has filed a motion to ditch the third-degree murder charge, too. The manslaughter charge would remain.
While Valid in One Sense, Outrage is Based on Revenge
The anger from the victim's family has been reported by local news outlets. The mother of the victim is outraged that the district attorney is not pursuing a more severe criminal charge.
On one level, her criticism has a point. She wants the jury to be presented with both the third-degree murder charge as well as the charge for voluntary manslaughter so they can decide between the two.
However, the fact is that, between the mother of the victim and the district attorney of Philadelphia, it is the district attorney who has the better say of what is the appropriate charge to file and pursue. Ignoring the legal knowledge and decades of experience that Krasner has accumulated, he also has access to all of the evidence that can be presented at trial.
He also has the emotional distance from the case that is necessary to make these decisions with a level head and without a strong bias in favor of the victim.
In the end, the only thing driving the criticism from the victim's family is their desire to see someone pay for their loss. While completely understandable, this desire for revenge is also exactly why we have a structured criminal justice system – to keep revenge from dictating how criminal suspects pay for their alleged crimes.
Joseph D. Lento, a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Philadelphia
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia who helps represent those who have been accused of violent crimes in the area. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353.