Legislation now moving through the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would significantly reform the state probation system for convicted defendants.
Nonviolent offenders and those not incarcerated for sex crimes or certain other serious offenses could see their probation terms reduced or even terminated under the proposed law. SB 913 was passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 19th and was re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee on October 27th. A hearing date in Appropriations had not been set as of November 3rd.
Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D-Philadelphia), and Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington) are sponsoring the bipartisan legislation.
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has said he would sign the bill if it comes to his desk this year.
What SB 913 Is
A comprehensive reform bill, SB 913 is “An Act amending Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in sentencing, further providing for conditions of probation and for modification or revocation of order of probation”—and that's the short title.
SB 913 requires a mandatory probation review conference after three years for misdemeanors and five years for felonies.
What SB 913 Does
In addition to good behavior, the law includes conditions that, if met, might qualify someone for a shortened or terminated probation. Court-approved conditions that merit consideration of modified or terminated probation during a review conference include:
- “consideration of child care responsibilities and limitations,”
- attaining an educational diploma or academic degree,
- participation in nonprofit community service program,
- undergoing individual or family counseling,
- accepting medical or psychiatric treatment,
- successful completion of a substance abuse program,
- obtaining a vocational or occupational license or other certification or training;
- making scheduled, affordable restitution or reparations for the crime committed, or
- “any other condition approved by the court … that substantially assists the defendant in leading a law-abiding life or furthers the rehabilitative needs of the defendant.”
Instead of waiting for the mandatory three- or five-year review, a defendant may petition for an early probation review conference if approved by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.
Technical Probation Violations Redefined
Amendments to SB 913 add to the list of “technical” violations that would not only bar a defendant from probation review but might result in revocation of probation. These violations include violent and sex-related crimes, presenting a threat to public safety, possession of a weapon, and other serious transgressions, according to an analysis of SB 913 by PennLive/Patriot-News.
Be Prepared for SB 913 if Passed
As with most laws, especially new ones, “the devil is in the details,” said criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm of Philadelphia. There is no guarantee SB 913 will become law next year, but, “If you or a loved one is on probation, the time to prepare a petition for an early probation review is now,” he stated. With 178,000 Pennsylvanians on probation, the review system could become backlogged with petitions for early review—and appeals of probation revocation under the new technical violations. Call 888-535-3686 today or contact Lento Law Firm online for professional legal advice.