In 2017, a bill was introduced to the PA General Assembly, which would grant judges the ability to require electronic monitoring of people with Protection from Abuse (PFA) Orders against them in high-risk cases. Nearly five years later, the bill (known as “Alina’s Law“) remains stalled in the House Judiciary Committee. Now, a new petition circulated by nonprofit group Alina's Light intends to put fresh pressure on legislators to get Alina's Law out of committee and up for a House vote.
The push comes in the wake of the recent deaths of two more women, Crystal Leschner and Rachel Dowden, both of whom were allegedly murdered by men with whom they had had a history of domestic violence.
What Is Alina's Law?
“Alina's Law” was named after a Pitt student who was murdered in 2017 by her boyfriend, against whom she had a PFA. The first bill quickly passed the Pennsylvania Senate, but it has repeatedly stalled in the House. Rep. Anita Kulik (D) of Pennsylvania's 45th Legislative District has re-introduced the bill to the House twice--in 2019, and again with a Republican co-sponsor in 2021. The bill currently still sits in the Judiciary Committee with no explanation as to why no progress has been made. Rep. Kulik is currently trying to move the bill forward by amending it to add further guidance for judges in prescribing electronic monitors for PFA defendants who are charged with domestic violence crimes.
Proponents of Alina's Law want the bill passed because while PFAs offer legal protection for victims of domestic violence, they effectively do nothing to prevent defendants from violating the orders. If passed, Alina's law would allow judges to place electronic GPS monitors on PFA defendants whom they believe are likely to violate the order. The monitor will alert law enforcement and the petitioner if the defendant gets within a certain radius of areas considered restricted by the PFA, giving the petitioner a chance to get to safety and triggering an arrest of the defendant.
Ramifications for Defendants
The ACLU came out in opposition to the first iterations of Alina's Law because it believed it violated the civil rights of the accused, effectively robbing them of due process. A PFA is a civil order, not a criminal one, and a PFA can be fairly easily obtained with a far lower burden of proof than if the defendant were being prosecuted for a crime. (Indeed, PFAs can stay in effect even if the defendant is never charged with a crime.) For this reason, the troubling question is whether it is a violation of privacy and civil rights to electronically monitor someone who has yet to be convicted of a crime—or, indeed, even criminally charged. While Alina's Law would certainly offer additional protection to at-risk victims, there needs to be greater clarification as to when it is legally appropriate for judges to require monitors. At the very least, the burden of proof for requiring one should be higher than that for obtaining a PFA.
If you're charged with domestic violence or facing a PFA order, Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help ensure your rights are protected through the process. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation.