Monday, October 21, 2019

ACLU says 'too many crimes on the books in PA', PDAA says 'not so fast'

In 1972, there were 282 possible criminal charges a Pennsylvania prosecutor could bring against a person accused of breaking the law, reported the Pennsylvania Capital Star.
Those charges, enumerated in Pennsylvania’s crimes code, outlawed offenses ranging from murder to petty theft. 
In the past four decades, they’ve nearly quintupled in number — a trend that’s helped Pennsylvania’s prison populations skyrocket, according to a report published Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s crimes code now contains 1,500 unique offenses, ACLU researchers found, giving prosecutors a dizzying array of charges to bring against alleged offenders. 
The proliferation is the result of a decades-long, bipartisan legislative trend that has dire real-world consequences, Nyssa Taylor, legal counsel for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a phone call with reporters Thursday. 
The expansion of the crimes code means that more people are being charged with crimes, Taylor said, and makes it more likely that prosecutors will secure convictions and lengthy sentences. 
“These new laws are a boon that allows [prosecutors] to bring numerous charges for a single crime,” Taylor said Thursday. 
It’s no coincidence, Taylor said, that the expansion coincides with an “explosion” in Pennsylvania’s prison and jail populations, which nearly tripled between 1978 and 2015, data from the Prison Policy Project, a nonprofit research institute, shows.
Taylor said that many of the offenses in Pennsylvania’s crimes code are unnecessary and redundant. Others arise in response to isolated events or criminal trends that grab attention in the news. 
The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association takes issue with the ACLU's findings: “The ACLU’s persistent and tired tactic of ignoring crime victims and public safety to advance its goal of eroding confidence in prosecutors is troubling.  Even more troubling is that the ACLU has decided to ignore gaps in the law and changes in technology that make victims of domestic violence and sexual exploitation vulnerable to significant harm and injury. We prefer to deal in truth and facts."   
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