In a bipartisan, bicameral show of support for crime victims, the General Assembly will continue taking steps to strengthen the protections for our most vulnerable victims of crime.  Just as those accused of a crime have certain rights, we need to ensure our most vulnerable crime victims have equal status throughout the entire criminal justice process.  

Public Safety/Public Protection Laws  Recently Enacted

Marsy’s Law (Pamphlet Laws Resolution No. 1) - Constitutional Amendment Creating a Victims’ Bill of Rights- Amends the State Constitution to establish inherent rights to victims of crime.  Marsy’s Law is named for Marsalee (Marsy) Nicholas, a California college student who was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Only a week after her murder, Marsy’s brother and mother walked into a grocery store and were confronted by the accused murder, whom the family had no idea had been released on bail. Marsy’s family has since championed for rights to victims and their families. The law, which has been adopted in six states (California, Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Ohio), stipulates that crime victims have the constitutional right to:
•    Notice of hearings and other proceedings.
•    Protection from the accused, notice of release or escape.
•    Full and timely restitution, proceedings free from delays and with prompt conclusion.
•    The ability to confer with the government’s attorney and information on all of these rights.

Metal Theft (Act 8 of 2017): Adds the offense of theft of secondary metal, which includes wire, pipe or cable commonly used by communications, gas and electrical utilities, and railroads and mass transit or commuter rail agencies, as well as copper, aluminum or other metal, or combination of metals, that is valuable for recycling or reuse as raw material. The offense is graded based on the value of secondary metal stolen. 

Libre’s Law (Act 10 of 2017): Updates and clarifies the existing animal abuse statute and increases the penalties for abusing any animal. The bill would apply criminal penalties based on the severity of the offense and divide the types of abuse into three categories: neglect, which would include failure to provide food, water or shelter; cruelty, which would include recklessly overloading, beating or abandonment; and aggravated cruelty, which would include intentionally torturing an animal to the point where it causes bodily injury or death. 

Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform (Act 13 of 2017): Reforms the state’s civil asset forfeiture process by imposing a higher burden of proof on the Commonwealth to take property, bolstering protections for third-party property owners, improving auditing and recording transparency of collected property, prohibiting the pre-forfeiture seizure of real property without a hearing, and adding an extra level of protection for those who are trying to collect their property after an acquittal.

Police Body Cameras (Act 22 of 2017): Removes barriers to the use of body cameras by law enforcement officers, including the previous requirement that an officer must announce to everyone in a public space they are being recorded. The measure also outlines the process by which recordings would be made available to the public.   

Additional Judges (Act 49 of 2017): Increases the number of judges of the Courts of Common Pleas in seven separate judicial districts within the Commonwealth. 

One Call Law (Act 50 of 2017): Extends and updates the Underground Utility Line Protection Law, also known as PA One Call, and transfers enforcement authority from the Department of Labor and Industry to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC). 

Crime Victim Representation (Act 51 of 2017): Increases the number of members appointed by the governor to the Victims’ Services Advisory Committee and ensures broader representation of crime victims on the committee.

Adam Walsh Act Changes (Act 10 of 2018): Requires the court to impose a mandatory three-year probation period consecutive to and in addition to any other lawful sentence imposed by the court for a person convicted of a Tier III sex offense under Pennsylvania’s Adam Walsh Act. 

Protection Against Sex Offenders (Act 29 of 2018): Amends the Judicial Code to fix a glitch caused by the Supreme Court’s Muniz decision regarding the registration of sexual offenders. This legislation will ensure all offenders must continue registering their location with the Pennsylvania State Police. 

First Chance Fund (Act 42 of 2018): Amends the First Chance Fund to benefit children who are the victims of violent crime or whose parents or guardians are the victims of violent crime.

Jurisdiction in Juvenile Cases (Act 49 of 2018): Clarifies that a minor’s failure to comply with a summary offense sentence constitutes a “delinquent act.” This clarification ensures that the juvenile courts retain jurisdiction over enforcement of such cases.

No ARD for Sex Offenders (Act 50 of 2018): Prohibits Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition for certain sex offenses against children. 

Neglect of Care-Dependent Person (Act 53 of 2018): Expands the offense of neglect of a care-dependent person that results in death and creates the offense of abuse of a care-dependent person. 

Non-Municipal Police Response (Act 57 of 2018): Allows certain officers of non-municipal police departments to respond to emergencies outside their jurisdiction. 

Drone Regulations (Act 78 of 2018): Establishes the crime of “unlawful use of unmanned aircraft” to better regulate the use of drones in the Commonwealth. 

Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law (Act 80 of 2018) Amends the Crimes Code to include the criminal offense of hazing, aggravated hazing, organizational hazing, and institutional hazing, and provides for penalties. Timothy Piazza was a 19-year-old sophomore engineering major at Penn State University who was found near death at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house following a pledge ritual. Charging documents described Piazza as stumbling through the house and repeatedly falling without anyone offering him help. He was found lying near death behind a basement bar with a blood alcohol level of possibly up to .36, his spleen had been shattered and he had suffered a brain hematoma and skull fracture. He died as a result of his traumatic brain injuries from the falls he suffered as members of the fraternity waited nearly 12 hours after he fell before calling police the next morning. It was alleged that pledges had to participate in a series of drinking stations. Eighteen fraternity members were initially facing charges. In September 2017, a judge threw out involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault charges against eight students.  

Improving PFA Orders (Act 92 of 2018 ): Amends the Protection from Abuse Act in order to provide the court with information regarding whether the defendant has been involved with a child abuse investigation. 

Recording Court Proceedings (Act 94 of 2018): Prohibits the use of devices to record video or audio or take photographs in a courtroom or hearing room without the permission of the presiding officer or as permitted by the rules of court.

Pets in Hot Vehicles (Act 104 of 2018): Offers civil immunity for a person entering a vehicle to rescue a dog or cat. The immunity would apply to law enforcement officers, animal control officers, human society police officers and emergency responders for property damage resulting from the effort to enter the dog or cat. For such immunity to apply, the person must have a reasonable belief the pet is in imminent danger, attempt to locate the driver, take reasonable steps to restore or ensure the animal’s well-being, use no more force than necessary and leave notice on or in the vehicle.

Safe Harbor in Human Trafficking (Act 130 of 2018) Requires that sexually exploited children be diverted from the criminal justice system to more appropriate human services. Law enforcement will be required to report to the Department of Human Services any encounter with a minor who has been subject to sexual exploitation. The department will implement a statewide protocol to deliver services to exploited children.  

Legislation Passed in the House

Tender Years Expansion (HB 2321): Expands the tender years exception – which permits a court to admit an out-of-court statement from a child victim or child witness -- to include crimes such as human trafficking, incest, endangering the welfare of a child, corruption of minors, sexual abuse of children and sexual exploitation of children. Pennsylvania’s Tender Year’s Hearsay Act allows for a hearsay statement of a child victim under the age of 12 to be admissible, provided the evidence is relevant and that the time, content and circumstances of the statement provide sufficient indicia of reliability.  Currently, the law only covers a number of sexual or violent offenses: homicide, assault, kidnapping, and certain sexual offenses like rape, burglary and robbery. 

Rape Shield Expansion (HB 2324 ): Includes past sexual victimization and allegations of past sexual victimization as inadmissible prosecutions at trial and includes additional serious crimes (human trafficking, incest, endangering the welfare of children, corruption of minors, sexual abuse of children, and sexual exploitation of children) to the protections under the Rape Shield Law. The Rape Shield Law protects victims from being cross-examined regarding prior sexual exploits, with limits like evidence of past false accusations.  During trials of sexual assault, there may be evidence of the victim’s alleged sexual history that the person accused of the sexual assault wants to introduce. Generally, this type of evidence is not admissible since the focus should be on the defendant and not on attacking the victim.  

Officer Down Advisory System (HB 31): Establishes the Pennsylvania Officer Down Advisory System to assist, by prompt notification to the public, in the apprehension of those suspected of causing serious injury or death to a law enforcement officer.

Identification of Law Enforcement Officer (HB 27): Prohibits releasing the name and identifying information of a law enforcement officer involved in a discharge of a firearm or use of force during the performance of official duties before an investigation is complete or before 30 days after the incident has occurred, whichever occurs first. 

Precious Metal Sales (HB 41): Enhances requirements for precious metal dealers regarding transaction records, item retention and licensing status, purchases from minors and penalties.

Trafficking of Infants (HB 128): Increases the penalty for the offense of trafficking of infants to a first-degree felony. 

Collecting Restitution: The following bills aim to help ensure payment of restitution: 
•    House Bill 234 requires each county to establish an internal unit dedicated to the collection of restitution, fines, fees and other court-imposed obligations unless the county chooses to outsource collections. 
•    House Bill 236 authorizes wage attachment for the satisfaction of restitution, costs and fines, and authorizes additional payment options for the same. 
•    House Bill 280 requires that any money posted as bail, which would otherwise be returnable, shall first be applied to the payment of any outstanding restitution, fees, fines or costs owed by the defendant in any criminal or delinquency case.
•    House Bill 285 requires that correctional facilities make minimum deductions from the wages and personal accounts of inmates who have outstanding restitution or other court-ordered obligations. 
•    House Bill 1806 amends the definition of “victim” in the Crime Victims law to include all crime victims, not just individuals. The bill is in response to a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, which vacated a former representative’s restitution order for using state resources to run campaigns. The court found that the Commonwealth cannot be a victim as the definition of victim under law only refers to individuals and their family members. The law could also aid other government entities and organizations.

Megan’s Law Requirements (HB 508): Prevents convicted sex offenders who are non-compliant in their Megan’s Law registry requirements from receiving welfare benefits.

Protecting Health Care Workers (HB 646): Amends the aggravated assault law to add health care practitioners to the protected class, which outlines a higher grade of offense and penalty if the health care practitioner is assaulted while in the performance of his or her duties. 

Firearms Preemption (HB 671): Outlines better enforcement of the state’s preemption of local firearms and ammunition regulations by stating that any party who successfully challenges one of these illegal local firearm ordinances will be entitled to reimbursement from the offending jurisdiction for reasonable attorney’s fees and costs to bring the lawsuit, and any loss of income suffered because of the illegal ordinance. 

Mandatory Minimums for Gun (HB 741): Addresses constitutional issues the United States Supreme Court and Pennsylvania Supreme Court found with Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws for those people who use guns to commit violent crimes. The bill amends the Crimes Code and the Judicial Code to reinstate mandatory minimum sentencing for gun violence and drug trafficking.

DUI and Driving Without a License (HB 1049): Creates a tiered penalty system for driving on a suspended or revoked license as a result of DUI-related offenses and establishes sentencing enhancements for homicide by vehicle and homicide by vehicle while DUI as a result of driving without a license or on a suspended license. 

Concussion Protocol (HB 1176): Creates the Law Enforcement Concussion Safety Act which directs the Pennsylvania State Police to develop a concussion protocol to be used by all police departments in the state. 

DNA Collection (HB 1523): Outlines new standards for the collection, analysis and use of DNA samples, and storage of DNA profiles in the State DNA Database for comparison with DNA profiles collected during criminal investigations. It also makes changes to the law to reflect current DNA testing terminology and techniques. 

Rape Kit Testing (HB 1821): Amends the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act regarding timeframes for the submission of sexual assault evidence. 

Intellectual Disabilities and Autism Testimony Protections (HB 2325): Extends the existing tender years exceptions to those with intellectual disabilities or autism.