R. Seth Williams is the District Attorney for the City and County of Philadelphia. He is the first African-American District Attorney in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s history. Williams was sworn in on January 4, 2010 as Philadelphia’s 24th District Attorney and was re-elected for a second four-year term in 2014.
District Attorney Williams’ mission for the 600 women and men of the Office, including approximately 300 Assistant District Attorneys, is to be Smart on Crime. Williams led Philadelphia in implementing a modern justice system by completely overhauling the Office’s Charging Unit, greatly expanding the number of diversion programs and creating a wide-range of alternative sentencing options for non-violent offenders.
In 2010, Williams established geographic bureaus within the office that correspond to the city’s police districts, thus creating vertical prosecution. Assistant District Attorneys are responsible for cases from arrest to conclusion, and the attorneys in each zone work closely with the district police and community members to decrease crime and increase safety. Williams also hired community leaders and outreach workers in each neighborhood to establish an active presence and open communication.
Williams stresses the importance of charging only the right people with the right crimes. His primary goals include crime prevention and focusing prosecutions on the small number of violent offenders who commit the majority of violent crimes. With these goals in mind, Williams launched a number of programs specifically designed to get illegal guns off the streets and to target the city’s most violent offenders for prosecution to the fullest extent of the law. Williams initiated GunStat, Focused Deterrence and the Violent Crime Strategies Unit, each with a role in curbing violence in Philadelphia. By gathering, analyzing and disseminating criminal intelligence within the office, each Assistant District Attorney can successfully prosecute the most violent of offenders.
Under Williams’ leadership, the Office handles about 40,000 criminal cases a year ranging from minor offenses to felonies, including sexual assaults and murders. Williams and the District Attorney’s Office played an instrumental role in helping the City receive a $3.5 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation, whose objective is to reduce the non-violent prison population by 34 percent. Williams regularly visits schools to talk about the dangers of bullying and the importance of staying in school. Williams created a Truancy Prevention Unit in the office with that goal in mind. Additionally, in partnership with the Philadelphia Police Department and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, Williams launched a prescription drug drop off program in which with drop-boxes are installed inside most city police districts. To date, the program has taken hundreds of pounds of unwanted and unused prescription drugs out of medicine cabinets and off the streets to help reduce deaths associated with opioid addiction.
Williams was placed in foster care as an infant. He was later adopted by a devoted and loving family and grew up in a hard-working, West Philadelphia neighborhood. As the only child of Imelda Williams and the late Rufus O. Williams, he learned the importance of community service.
After graduating from Central High School in 1985, Williams attended Penn State University where he served as President of the Black Caucus and later as President of the Undergraduate Student Government. He attended law school at Georgetown University, and graduated with distinction as a Public Interest Law Scholar. In 1992, Williams joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. As an Assistant District Attorney, he created and led the Repeat Offenders Unit with the purpose of reducing the high percentage of crimes committed by repeat offenders. His extensive trial experience includes 37 jury trials, more than 1,500 bench trials and more than 2,500 felony preliminary hearings. In 2005, he was appointed Inspector General of the City of Philadelphia where he was responsible for the investigation of corruption, fraud, waste, abuse and employee misconduct among municipal workers and companies doing business with the City. Williams left the position of Inspector General in 2008 and accepted a position as counsel at Stradley, Ronon, Stevens & Young. Williams was awarded an Eisenhower Fellowship as well as selected for the Aspen Institute-Rodel Fellowship Program for Public Leadership.
In 2015, Williams was elected to serve as the Vice President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and is currently the Vice Chairman of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. Today, Williams is an adjunct professor at the Universities of Pennsylvania, Temple and Villanova and is a Major in the Judge Advocate General Corps of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. In his free time, he is an avid runner and fitness enthusiast, and regularly raises funds to benefit Parkinson’s, ALS and Breast Cancer research; kids and at risk youth; and organizations that support the importance of adoption. He is most proud of his three daughters Alyssia, Taylor and Hope, and lives in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia.