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The Prison Complex

Friday, May 1, 2015, 11:57 am

Pennsylvania’s “Revictimization Relief Act” Struck Down by Federal Judge

By George Lavender

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Pennsylvania’s controversial “Revictimization Relief Act,” was declared unconstitutional on Tuesday. The law, which opponents dubbed “The Silencing Act,” allowed victims of personal injury crime to bring a civil action against the perpetrator of that crime, “for conduct which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.”

The law passed last October in response to a commencement speech given by prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal at his former college. In an interview with The Prison Complex earlier this year, David Shapiro a lawyer and professor at the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern Law School said the law was “incredibly vast in the amount of speech it prohibits.”

The New York Times reports that US District Judge Christopher Conner wrote "throughout its brief legislative gestation, the law was championed primarily as a device for suppressing offender speech.”

"A past criminal offense does not extinguish the offender's constitutional right to free expression," Conner wrote. "The First Amendment does not evanesce at the prison gate, and its enduring guarantee of freedom of speech subsumes the right to expressive conduct that some may find offensive."

He said law was unlawfully purposed, vaguely executed and patently overbroad, and said legislators "fell woefully short of the mark." Continue reading… 

Judge Conner noted that the law did not define “offender” and as a result “prisoners and non-prisoners alike- had instantly modified their conduct for fear of falling within the ambit of the act.”

Opponents of the law celebrated the ruling but the Times reports that the law’s supporters were preparing to find ways to restore the measure in some form.

Rep. Mike Vereb, a suburban Philadelphia Republican who sponsored the law, said that if an appeal is not taken he plans to push for an amended version of the law in the Legislature.

"It wasn't suppressing speech, it was suppressing harassment and revictimization of our victims," Vereb said. "This is the first ring of the bell in this fight. The victims need fighters, we're fighters." Continue reading…

George Lavender is an award-winning radio and print journalist based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @GeorgeLavender.

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