In a clear attempt to undermine the progress of criminal justice reform, Pennsylvania lawmakers have passed a bill that singles out Philadelphia's progressive district attorney in all but name and strips him of significant power. While some news outlets are downplaying the severity of the law, it could have a lasting impact on the criminal justice reform movement.
Pennsylvania Legislature Passes Gun Law
However, quietly and with little fanfare, Republican statehouse representatives added an amendment, Act 58, to the Bill just before its passage. Act 58 seemed innocuous – it merely gave concurrent jurisdiction to the Pennsylvania Attorney General for certain gun crimes in a handful of Pennsylvania counties, including Philadelphia, for two years. At the last second, most of those other counties were removed from the scope of Act 58, leaving only Philadelphia affected.
House Bill 1614 passed the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Tom Wolf.
It was only after the law had been signed that it became clear what Act 58 would do.
How Amendments Single Out and Undercut Philadelphia District Attorney
By giving concurrent jurisdiction over certain Philadelphia gun crimes to the attorney general, Act 58 drastically undercuts the authority of new Philadelphia district attorney, Larry Krasner.
Krasner took the DA's office in January 2018, in a landslide vote, and has run on a staunch program of criminal justice reform. His approach and popularity have made “hard on crime” politicians feel threatened and made an enemy of the Philadelphia police union.
That Act 58 seems to single out Krasner, individually, seems indisputable: Krasner's jurisdiction in Philadelphia is the only one impacted by the amendment, and Act 58 expires right after the end of Krasner's first term in office.
Contrary to the reporting by some news agencies, Act 58 is a serious issue. Krasner has shown a willingness to let first-time, nonviolent offenders take diversion programs that would keep their criminal record clean, even if they were arrested with a firearm.
Act 58 would allow the state attorney general to pursue those charges - charges that Krasner in some instances has allowed defendants to resolve through diversion programs such as ARD.
Additionally, Krasner's district attorney office has been far more lenient on incarcerating people convicted for nonviolent offenses, including gun possession, and has been offering plea deals that are much more equitable for the defendant.
But Act 58 undermines much of those efforts. An offer by Krasner's office to dismiss a gun allegation can seem hollow to someone who knows they could just be pursued by the attorney general.
Criminal Defense in Philadelphia with Joseph D. Lento
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who serves the accused in Philadelphia. He is disturbed, but undeterred, by the setback that Act 58 has put in the way of criminal defendants in the area. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353 if you have been accused of a crime in the city.