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CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

I.        JUDICIAL SELECTION & ELECTIONS

We hear candidates talking about different reforms such as cash bail, no prosecution of marijuana and prostitution, etc., but do we ever hear about real proposals that will truly change the criminal justice system for the better? 

The first thing we must do is stop electing Judges.  The way our Judges are chosen is beyond ludicrous.  Did you know that 98% of judicial elections for Common Pleas Court for the last 40 years, the candidate lucky enough to draw the first ballot position in a field of 3 or more, has always won that Judicial seat?!  In other words, if you are “lucky” enough to draw the first ballot position, you are a Judge.  That person made the bare minimum requirements in order to get on the ballot and is now making life and death decisions on a daily basis. 

Then we have different organizations backing candidates that stand for this or that, and they have no qualifications whatsoever to truly be a Judge, deciding which parent gets their child, whether to shut down a business, or better yet, send someone to prison. 

Under my proposal, there would be a judicial commission made up of different voices in the community who would each get from one vote to five votes.  They would consist of the District Attorney, the Board of Judges (because after all they see lawyers appear before them all the time and know who is qualified and who isn’t), the Bar Association, which must be voted on just to make their selection so that no one person can unduly influence their vote, the Mayor, Labor, which would have to decide amongst themselves how they would get their vote to be agreed upon by all of the building trades.  I am sure they could figure it out with their rotation basis, etc., the Fraternal Order of Police, the Guardian Civic League, and possibly some others.  All would have to choose from candidates who are found to be “highly qualified” by the Bar Association. 

Obviously, this needs to be perfected in who gets a vote and who gets two votes, but I think you see the point.  While no system would be perfect, it would certainly be far better than the ridiculous system we have now, where private citizens go into a voting booth and are pulling the lever to vote for a Judge they know nothing about.  In other words, make our Judges less political and more qualified. 

 

II.      CASH BAIL

I have seen candidates, oh too eager voicing their opinion that we should eliminate cash bail.  However, this puts an added strain on other departments to go out looking for people who decide not to come to Court without consequences. 

When a person doesn’t show up, for a quality of life crime, and goes on the run for a significant amount of time, the person who they violated may have moved away, died, or for some reason just can’t pursue the case.  That means we are rewarding a criminal for not showing up to Court until the case goes away.  Under the bail system, that person would lose their money if they don’t appear.  Does the cash bail system need reforms?  Obviously.  There is just about nothing in the criminal justice system that cannot be reformed, but to eliminate cash bail is a dangerous thing.  I agree that we should not hold an indigent Defendant just because they can’t pay a nominal bail, but if they keep committing crime after crime after crime, our system should not be a revolving door, where they don’t ever see punishment because they are not held.

I am in agreement that for someone who does not have a history of failing to appear from Court, they are arrested for one of the enumerated crimes which would be spelled out, and they are not a danger to the community, that they should not have to put any cash up. 

The real reform here is needed with who we choose as bail commissioners.  This again is an oh too political appointment where the person must be qualified before getting such a sensitive post. 

 

III.     SECOND DEGREE MURDER

Voters should understand that second-degree murder is any death that occurs during the course of the commission of another felony, such as robbery, arson, etc., etc.  If an 18-year-old kid hooks up with an older guy, and he goes and does his first robbery because he is strung out on drugs, and the 30-year-old pulls out a pistol and kills the store owner, under our current system of justice, the Judge has no discretion but to impose a life prison sentence for the 18-year-old first offender.  That has been a pet peeve of mine since I started practicing law, and if there is ever a situation where my Defense Attorney background shines through, it is with felony murder.  While I agree that the penalty should be prison, life in prison is too onerous for a first-time offender who is not the shooter, and that must change. 

 

IV.     THREE STRIKES RULE

Did you know that if your son or daughter goes out and commits their second residential burglary, with no one getting hurt or even home, they must serve a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison?  That’s because it’s a second strike, and if it was the third time, it would be 25 years on the minimum end!  This is the problem with mandatory sentencing.  While I believe that in some instances mandatory sentences are a good thing, the three-strike rule can really be an injustice which needs great attention.  While there are instances that I believe a first offender should get 10 years, there are other instances where 10 years on a second offense is too harsh.  Therefore, we have to use our common sense, balance all factors, and impose the correct sentence not one of a mandatory nature where the Judge’s hands are tied.

 

V.      NON-PROSECUTION OF QUALITY OF LIFE CRIMES

By simply making blanket statements like Mr. Krasner has, that he will not even prosecute certain types of crimes such as prostitution, he’s doing no one any favors.  99% of the time, these prostitutes, whether male or female, are drug addicted, and need help.  If they are not being prosecuted, then there is no carrot we can dangle to make them earn their way out of the justice system by getting clean.  Therefore, blanket non-prosecution is a foolish thing and will do more damage than good in the long term.  Let’s help where we can. 

 

VI.     SHOPLIFTING

Pennsylvania has statutes that protect shopkeepers from serial shoplifters. 

Your first offense is a summary, the second a misdemeanor, and the third one a felony.  The reason for these escalating penalties is because the same people seem to be targeting these stores all the time, and if they just get something like a traffic ticket, which is a summary offense, there is no deterrent for them to at least try. 

The Krasner administration either doesn’t prosecute shoplifting at all, or at worst, for second, third, fourth, fifth, and tenth offenses, it’s still just a summary offense!  

These stores have undergone rioting and looting during protests, a Pandemic where their stores were mostly closed, and now our District Attorney tells them that they are not worth anything to the Community and may as well just pack up and leave. 

How much can a store owner take without doing just that?  We must protect our businesses because they pay more than their fair share of taxes, and the more taxes they pay, the less taxes homeowners pay.  When more people are paying taxes, everyone’s bill goes down, because Government remains the same, but it’s spread amongst more people.  We have to stop driving these businesses out. 

 

VII.   EXPUNGEMENTS

The Krasner administration speaks of mass incarceration as a bad thing and how it doesn’t make our streets any safer, but only hurts people from gaining meaningful employment, etc. 

When I was in Court the other day, I had a Defendant convicted of a misdemeanor as the only offense in his lifetime.  He was found guilty 30 years ago and has been a successful businessman since.  While I attempted to get his record expunged, the Assistant District Attorney saw the injustice in keeping this person saddled with this criminal record and attempted to get permission from his supervisors for a non-objection. 

That prosecutor came back to the room and advised the Judge that he was told that he must object because a conviction is a conviction no matter how old it is.  That is a robotic injustice.  Are we thinking like lawyers, or are we acting like robots? 

I would propose that on a one-time offender, if they have a misdemeanor 15 years old or longer, and they have no other criminal record, they should be entitled to get that record expunged.  Likewise, if they were convicted of a felony 30 years old or more, and they have no other offense, they should be permitted to get that record expunged with few exceptions. 


NON-EXHAUSTIVE LIST

The above is certainly not an exhaustive list of criminal reforms, but as you can see, it’s a step in the right direction and addresses areas which really need work. 


Peruto For DA
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