Pennsylvania bill would enable victims to sue offender for reopening anguish

Both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature have passed and sent to Gov. Tom Corbett a bill “allowing judges to issue injunctions, or grant any other ‘appropriate relief’ if there is ‘conduct’ by a criminal ‘offender’ that ‘perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” Such an effect is specified to include, though it is not limited to, a “temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.” The “revictimization remedy” bill, S. 508, is apparently aimed at providing a way to go after a much-cooed-over convicted cop-killer for delivering recorded speeches at college campuses, to the distress of the family of the policeman he shot; Paul Alan Levy describes the bill’s use of the word “conduct” as a “fig leaf” for its intent to restrict speech. What Levy calls the “exceptional breadth” of the bill’s language could imperil or chill a wide range of other activity that might tread on victims’ feelings, such as campaigns to rally public opinion against a conviction or in favor of clemency. The bill, Levy says, “threatens to make Pennsylvania a national laughing stock.” [Consumer Law & Policy; Fox News; NBC Philadelphia; more, Joel Mathis, Philadelphia mag] More on the ever-popular “victims’ rights” cause from Steve Chapman and Roger Pilon.

One Comment

  • This seems like a weird one. The statute itself might not be unconstitutional on its face – it DOES, after all, prohibit “conduct”. But if it’s applied in a manner that would actually prohibit a speech by a convict that doesn’t even mention his crime or the victim (and that sort of speech is apparently what triggered lawmakers to write and pass the bill) then that application is not even close to being constitutional.

    But I’m really struggling to come up with a situation where this law actually COULD be applied (constitutionally) for something that’s not already covered under other laws. If you were to break someone’s leg, get convicted quickly and get out on probation, and then re-break it the day before the cast was supposed to come off, that would certainly be “conduct which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim” and nobody would say that should be allowed, but you wouldn’t need this law to go after them for that. And “intentional infliction of emotional distress” is already a cause of action, right?