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Teen facing Internet witness intimidation charges

A teenager in Pennsylvania is facing criminal charges after allegedly posting secret grand jury information on his Internet social media page. The 17-year-old has been charged with an Internet crime in connection with the case, as investigators work to understand how the young man got his hands on the evidence. The young man is slated to be charged as an adult, though that decision could change during subsequent legal proceedings.

The case is particularly significant considering the criminal context in the city of Philadelphia. Authorities continue to battle witness intimidation and retaliation throughout the area, as the problem reaches near-epidemic proportions. As a result, officers and legal officials are coming down hard on anyone accused of interfering with the judicial system in this way.

Authorities are trying to understand the connection the young man from East Germantown may have had to computer crimes committed by an Instagram account held under the name of "rats 215." That account posted photos and information about dozens of witnesses who told police about violent crimes in their area; the account was closed down in early November. Much of the information that appeared on that account had been lifted from such secret proceedings, though the mechanism for this leak remains a mystery.

Information on the teen's Twitter feed showed photos of a victim who had been targeted in an attempted shooting in 2012. The Internet crime pictures also included statements made by the victim; those statements to the police had not been made public. Somehow, the information was leaked out of a secret grand jury proceeding. Those meetings are generally kept closed to prevent witness intimidation and allow the flow of justice to proceed unimpeded.

In this case, the teenaged defendant may not have realized the true implications of his actions, if he was indeed associated with the Instagram account. The teen deserves a fair trial, whether he is charged as a juvenile or an adult. No matter their alleged crimes, all criminal defendants deserve to have their rights protected during the entirety of a criminal court proceeding.

Source: articles.philly.com, "Juvenile charged with intimidating witness on Twitter" Mike Newall & Aubrey Whelan, Nov. 14, 2013

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