A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section


Senate Approved Sen. Greenleaf’s Juvenile Justice Amendments

The Senate Wednesday voted 50-0 to approve Senate Bill 850 amending the state’s Juvenile Act to ensure greater protections for juvenile offenders in light of the judicial abuses that occurred in Luzerne County between 2005 and 2008. The bill was sponsored by Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery, Bucks).

Many juvenile’s rights were violated because they were denied representation by an attorney and as a result were placed in detention centers for minor offenses.

The legislation responds directly to the circumstances of the Luzerne cases by changing the purpose clause of the Juvenile Act to ensure that the least restrictive punishments are used and confinement be a last resort. Under Senate Bill 850, the law will presume that all juvenile defendants are indigent in order to have each juvenile represented by an attorney.

Senate Bill 850 would ensure more equitable treatment of juveniles and offer them the same protections whether they are tried in juvenile court or before a magisterial district judge for a summary offense.

The legislation also streamlines the expungement of records that result from cases before the juvenile court and magisterial district judges.

The bill also defines the crime of cyber bullying by minors. These activities would only be considered a crime if a minor knowingly transmits an electronic message or photo to harm or harass another person.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Senate Again Passes Bill Dealing With Death Penalty And Mental Retardation

The Senate Tuesday approved legislation– Senate Bill 367— sponsored by Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango) to establish a pretrial procedure to determine if a defendant in a capital penalty trial is a person with mental retardation. The vote was 43-7.

A version of Senate Bill 367 has passed the Senate overwhelmingly in three prior legislative sessions, but has yet to receive final passage. The measure now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Sen. White has introduced the measures since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that applying the death penalty to persons with mental retardation is unconstitutional. The court left it up to states to determine how to implement the decision.

Under Senate Bill 397, counsel for a defendant in a capital case can request a hearing prior to trial to determine if the defendant is not eligible for the death penalty due to mental retardation. The burden of proof would be on the defendant. If the trial judge finds for the defense, the trial would proceed as a noncapital trial.

The bill also provides a similar procedure for a defendant already sentenced to death with appeals pending. The bill’s definition of “a person with mental retardation” is based on one used by the American Association of Mental Retardation: an individual who has a mental disability which was present before the age of 18 and characterized by significant limitations in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social and practical adaptive skills.


Criminal Justice Reform Bill Passes Senate

The Senate Tuesday passed Senate Bill 100 (Greenleaf-R-Montgomery, Bucks) containing several provisions that address prison overcrowding, recidivism, and reduce the high costs of incarceration. The vote was 50-0. The bill would–

— Establish the Safe Community Reentry Program. The legislation requires the DOC to establish a comprehensive program to reduce recidivism and ensure the successful reentry and reintegration of offenders into the community.

— The bill will make more nonviolent offenders eligible for Pennsylvania’s alternative sentencing programs. These programs include county intermediate punishment, state intermediate punishment, state motivational boot camp, and the recidivism risk reduction incentive.

— The bill establishes a county probation program providing for swift, predictable and immediate sanctions on offenders who violate their probation. Currently, parole violations are often punished with lengthy prison sentences that are costly to taxpayers, and fail to reduce recidivism. Each county would enact their own sanctions.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Session Schedule

The House and Senate are in session on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The House Judiciary Committee meets Tuesday to consider:

House Bill 1156 (Markosek-D-Allegheny) further providing for the offense of phishing and for protection from liability under certain circumstances.

House Bill 1709 (Roae-R-Crawford) further providing for child custody considering criminal convictions.

Senate Bill 818 (Baker-R-Luzerne) further providing for disposition of information in juvenile justice cases.

The Senate Judiciary Committee meets Tuesday to consider:

Senate Bill 1183 (Orie-R-Allegheny) further providing for the registration of sexual offenders.

Bills in progress

Aggravated Assault: House Bill 1417 (Staback-D-Schuylkill) further providing penalties for assaulting conservation officers was referred into and out of the House Appropriations Committee and passed by the House. It now goes to the Senate for consideration. The Senate Game and Fisheries Committee is scheduled to meet on the bill October 25.

Criminal Surveillance: House Bill 1531 (Pyle-R-Armstrong) further providing for the offense of criminal surveillance was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee and Tabled.

Evidence Tampering: House Bill 1126 (Moul-R-Adams) relating to restitution for tampering with evidence or public records was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee and Tabled.

Texting Prohibition: Senate Bill 314 (Tomlinson-R-Bucks) prohibiting the use of certain electronic devices while driving was amended and reported from the House Transportation Committee and is now on the House Calendar for action.

Ignition Interlocks: Senate Bill 1184 (Rafferty-R-Montgomery) further providing for the use of ignition interlocks was reported from the Senate Transportation Committee and is now on the Senate Calendar for action.

DNA Evidence: Senate Bill 775 (Pileggi-R-Delaware) further providing for the use and collection of DNA samples and evidence was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

PA Supreme Court To Tweet Rulings Online

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has established a new Twitter feed to increase online ease and access to its rulings.

The specially designated site will provide instant notification of the online posting of most Supreme Court information, such as orders, new rules, opinions and concurring and dissenting statements written by the justices.

Anyone can sign-up to receive alerts from the Court’s Twitter page, which can be accessed on Twitter. “Follow Us On Twitter” links also will appear on the state court system’s website to take interested parties directly to the page.

“The manner and pace in which the Commonwealth’s citizens expect to receive information from their government is changing rapidly,” said Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin, who has spearheaded the move in behalf of the entire Court. “This is a logical extension of an ongoing commitment to enhance the delivery of court information and services in an efficient and cost-effective manner.”

All new rulings posted to the Pennsylvania Judiciary website will be linked to a Tweet, and available immediately on a follower’s personal home page. The new service complements and expands the Pennsylvania Judiciary’s online offerings by maximizing the convenience of the Internet through cell phones and other devices.

The new service will not be set up for communicating with the Court. Those who have questions or wish to report a problem or concern about the state’s judicial system may continue to do so through the Public Comments section of the Pennsylvania Judiciary’s website.

The Free Student Research Center is now OPEN. It will be open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 9AM to 3PM. The Free Student Research Center is available for use by attorneys who are current members of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section and who are court-appointed to the case for which they seek research (either state or CJA!).

The Free Student Research Center is located in the Jack Myers Memorial Lounge on the Third Floor of the CJC. You may make a research request in person or via the Criminal Justice Section website at http://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/CJResearch

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