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

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Session schedule

The State budget impasse continues.  The House and Senate are in recess until called back for action on the budget.

Bill moving

DNA Data: Senate Bill 683 (Pileggi-R-Delaware) further providing for the use and collection of DNA in criminal cases was passed by the Senate and now goes to the House for action.  A Senate Fiscal Note and summary is available.

 

State Senator Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware County) sponsored the DNA bill.

Report from Crisci Associates PA Capitol Digest on DNA bill

Senate Bill 683 (Pileggi-R-Delaware) strengthening and modernizing Pennsylvania’s use of DNA technology to fight violent crime was passed Monday by the Senate.

“Pennsylvania’s DNA database was created more than two decades ago and since that time, tremendous progress has been made with DNA science,” Sen. Dominic Pileggi said. “It’s time for Pennsylvania to catch up with the science. This bill will make our communities safer by getting violent criminals off the streets.”

Senate Bill 683 will require individuals arrested for serious crimes to submit DNA samples, a process already used by more than half of the states and the federal government. In addition, the bill establishes privacy protections, an expungement process and new quality controls. It also authorizes a new type of DNA search to help identify suspects in unsolved crimes.

“This kind of law has been proven to solve violent crimes,” Sen. Pileggi said. “I hope Senate Bill 683 can be sent to the Governor for his signature this year.”

He cited the case of the killer known as the Kensington Strangler, who was arrested on felony drug charges in June 2010 – but no DNA sample was taken. “Later that year, three women were found raped and strangled to death. Numerous others were sexually assaulted but managed to escape their attacker,” Sen. Pileggi said. “Philadelphia police spent thousands of hours working to solve the case.”

Many months later, the man pled guilty to the felony drug charge and – because Pennsylvania’s current law does require post-conviction DNA samples – his DNA was collected. When it was processed, investigators found the match they were looking for. The man was convicted of the three murders and numerous other crimes and was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.

“It’s a needless tragedy that so many of his crimes could have been prevented – if Pennsylvania had this law in place,” Sen. Pileggi said.

Senate Bill 683 is supported by the Office of the Attorney General, the PA District Attorneys Association, the PA Chiefs of Police Association, the State Troopers Association, and the national organization DNA Saves.

The legislation will:

— Require post-arrest DNA samples from those arrested for serious offenses;

— Explicitly prohibit DNA samples from being used for anything other than legitimate law enforcement identification purposes;

— Establish an expungement process for the DNA records of exonerated individuals;

— Codify accreditation requirements for forensic DNA testing laboratories;

— Require continuing education for forensic DNA testing personnel; and

— Authorize the state police to use modified DNA searches to help investigators identify

unknown DNA profiles taken at crime scenes.

(Legislative information from Crisci Associates PA Capitol Digest)

PA Flag

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Supporters rally for Senate Bill 166 to liberalize expungements

By BEN FINLEY, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 16, 2015

Click for entire report from Philly.com

Click for text of Senate Bill 166

Riding a wave of interest in criminal-justice reform among liberals and conservatives alike, Pennsylvania state lawmakers and nonprofit groups on Thursday renewed calls to erase criminal records for some offenders convicted of minor crimes.

Their focus was on Senate Bill 166, which would give those convicted of second- or third-degree misdemeanors, such as retail theft, the chance to have their records expunged after 10 years if they have stayed out of trouble.

The measure, supported by Gov. Wolf, also would require law enforcement agencies to remove arrest records after three years in cases in which defendants had not been convicted.

In an afternoon conference call, State Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf (R., Montgomery) and State Rep. Jordan A. Harris (D., Phila.) said the bill was poised to pass the House when lawmakers return to Harrisburg next week. The Senate unanimously approved the proposal in February.

Many states, including New Jersey, already have such laws. But Pennsylvania’s bill reflects the growing momentum throughout the nation – from President Obama to the conservative Koch brothers – to find ways to reduce swelling prison and jail populations and their associated costs.

Expungement offers one less barrier to convicts seeking a stable job, something that makes them far less likely to re-offend and return to jail, advocates say.

“This wouldn’t cure the problem for all folks, but it would move Pennsylvania into the future,” said Holly Harris, executive director of the U.S. Justice Action Network, a nonprofit focused on reducing the prison population. “Most of our neighbors around us have already done this.”

The law, in its current form, would be limited to crimes with jail sentences of less than two years and would not apply to sex offenders, people who intimidated witnesses, or those who committed simple assaults.

It wouldn’t be perfect, experts say. Given the rise of the Internet, expungement would fail to erase news stories about the offenses or prevent companies that conduct background checks from cataloging the conviction.

“In the age of the Internet, there is no such thing as expungement,” said Marissa Bluestine, director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project at Temple University’s Law School. “The question is whether an employer can use the crime against a potential hire once there has been an expungement.”

Bluestine said the bill ideally would eliminate barriers to employment, as well as certain types of financial aid and mortgage assistance. She added that would-be employees could file discrimination claims, citing an expungement law.

“But hopefully, in the long term, people will understand that it’s not a reflection of someone’s character when they had gone through something in their youth or several years ago,” she said.

Currently, only summary offenses such as public drunkenness or disorderly conduct can be expunged, said Ron Elgart, a Bucks County-based defense attorney. Offenders could ask the governor for a pardon, a process that Elgart said takes about four years and involves lots of money and legal costs. Diversion programs also prevent charges from being filed for first-time offenders.

“Everybody is waking up to the fact that the way we’ve been doing it in the criminal justice system isn’t working and [is] costing a fortune,” he said.

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