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

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Session schedule

The House and Senate meet Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Action in Committee

Child Protection: House Bill 431 (Gingrich-R-Lebanon) further providing for education and training in child protective services and House Bill 432 (Gingrich-R-Lebanon) further providing for child abuse reporting were both amended and reported from the House Children and Youth Committee and are now on the House Calendar for action.

Human Trafficking: House Bill 663 (Ellis-R-Butler) further providing for the definition of commercial sex and human trafficking was reported from the House Judiciary Committee and Tabled.

Criminal Procedure: House Resolution 150 (Kortz-D-Allegheny) memoralizing the PA Supreme Court to adopt the amendments and additions of the Rules of Criminal Procedure 513 and 513.1 was reported from the House Judiciary Committee and is now on the House Calendar for action.

Child Abductions: Senate Bill 689 (Corman-R- Centre) providing for prevention of abduction of children was reported from the Senate Judiciary Committee and is now on the Senate Calendar for action.

Criminal Records: Senate Bill 391 (Solobay-D-Washington) further providing for the expungement of criminal record history was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Senate hearing on overhauling child protection laws

From Crisci Associates PA Capitol Digest

The process of overhauling Pennsylvania’s child protection laws continued to move forward Tuesday with a joint Senate hearing co-chaired by Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Lehigh) to discuss legislative recommendations by the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection.

The Senate Aging and Youth Committee, chaired by Sen. Mensch, and the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, chaired by Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland), heard from task force members and Acting Public Welfare Secretary Beverly Mackereth.

“This is the first step in a journey to better protect Pennsylvania children. We’re going to move cautiously, but we are going to act,” said Sen. Mensch.

Task force members on hand included its chairman, Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler; Dr. Cindy Christian, director of Safe Place: The Center for Child Protection and Health at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and attorney Jason Kutulakis.

The task force members encouraged greater use of Multidisciplinary Investigative Teams, composed of county prosecutors, law enforcement and child advocates, whose sole mission is to stop offenders from preying upon children.

The panel also endorsed Child Advocacy Centers, where a qualified forensics interviewer speaks with children who may be victims of abuse, and “academies” to improve training of case workers.

According to the task force testifiers, Pennsylvania has a multi-tiered system when it comes to child abuse allegations that is inclusive of our criminal justice system to investigate crimes and child protective services to ensure the safety of the child as well as determines if there are any further victims.

Far too often, police and child protective services work in “silos” when it comes to investigations – within narrow communication channels where information is not always shared. In addition, state health privacy (HIPPA) laws can hinder the exchange of information necessary for an investigation, task force members said.

Acting Secretary Mackereth, who spent 20 years as a county case worker, explained the obstacles faced by case workers when investigating potential abuse.

The Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection was created by the passage of Senate Resolution 250 in December 2011. The panel held a series of public meetings and released its report in November 2012.

The task force recommendations led to the introduction of a bipartisan package of legislation to provide sweeping improvements to Pennsylvania’s child protection laws.

Sen. Mensch is sponsoring Senate Bill 27 to improve the exchange of information among medical practitioners and county agencies. He also drafted Senate Bill 33 to provide employee whistleblower protection for child abuse reporting.

“I am grateful of the hard work done by the Task Force on Child Protection to identify weaknesses in our current child protection laws and recommend legislative improvements,” said Sen. Mensch. “We will continue to rely on their counsel as we move our legislative package forward toward the goal of safeguarding children from the heinous crime of child abuse.”

Audio and video of the hearing are available on the Senate Aging and Youth Committee webpage.

Committee hearings

April 18– House Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on House Bill 79 (Harper-R- Montgomery) further providing for the retirement of justices.  Room 205 Ryan Building. 10:00.

April 18– House Democratic Policy Committee hearing on prison reform and expungement.  Allison Hill Community Center, Harrisburg. 10:00.

April 25– Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the concept of determinate sentencing.  Philadelphia Bar Association, 11th Floor Conference Center, 1101 Market St., Philadelphia. 10:00.

Administrative sub poenas

Monday the House passed by 198-0 House Bill 90 which would fast track online investigations without judicial oversight.  The bill would allow law enforcement authorities to use administrative subpeonas instead of judicially approved search warrants.

Click for report in Pennsylvania Independent

Click for text of House Bill 90

From Memo dated January 3, 2013 from Representative Rick Saccone:

This bill is a specific recommendation of the Child Protection Task Force meant to equip law enforcement with the tools necessary to investigate, deter and punish those who exploit children.

As we all know, perpetrators of child sexual exploitation and abuse frequently utilize the Internet to contact a child victim, access or distribute child pornography or communicate with others for purposes of trafficking children. Investigations therefore often start with law enforcement determining where the computer which is the source of electronic communications and files connected with the crime are located. Technology permits an internet service provider or remote computer storage service to identify the “IP address” of the originating computer and records of the provider often can identify the person who subscribes to the service through that computer.

Though federal law and Pennsylvania Crime Code Section 5743 permit the use of an administrative subpoena to procure this identification information from a service provider, separate legislation must specifically authorize the issuance of an administrative subpoena. Unlike the federal government, Pennsylvania has not enacted  authorizing legislation.

As a result, today investigators in the Attorney General’s office and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) must seek a court order or search warrant to get this basic non-content information.  This is time consuming and hampers their ability to efficiently and expeditiously investigate the many cases that are referred from sources such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  If the Attorney General, or a district attorney, had the authority to issue an administrative subpoena, much time would be saved, perpetrators could be identified more quickly and our children would be better protected from predators.

To remedy this problem, I plan to introduce legislation in the very near future which would give the attorney general and district attorneys, or their designated deputies, the authority to issue an administrative subpoena to a service provider, to gain access to a subscriber or customer’s name, address, telephone or instrument number or other subscriber number or identity, including temporarily assigned network address, which many be relevant to an authorized law enforcement agency.

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