Penalties for Sex Offenses in Pennsylvania Continue to Escalate
Recently, Pennsylvania passed a new law that makes “grooming” offenses a felony. The state is considering several other measures that would increase the penalties for convicted sex offenders.
November 19, 2010 /24-7PressRelease/ — Tougher penalties for “grooming”
In October, Gov. Ed Rendell signed into law a bill that enforces tougher penalties for so-called “grooming offenses” – i.e. when a person in a position of authority commits a sex offense against a person in their trust. The law targets those who have mentoring relationships with minors, like teachers, clergy members and police officers, for example.
Officially charged as corruption of a minor under the Pennsylvania Criminal Code, the new law increases the penalties for this crime from a misdemeanor to a felony with a maximum seven year sentence and $15,000 fine. Additionally, the new law broadens the authority of the Attorney General and District Attorneys’ offices to investigate and prosecute grooming offenses that occur across county or state lines. The new penalties for grooming offenses take effect in December.
Additional Sex Offender Laws on the Horizon
There are several other potential laws in the works that would further restrict the rights of those who have been convicted of committing sex crimes in Pennsylvania. While state legislators, district attorneys and the police spend significant amounts of time arguing how important it is that these measures are adopted into law, little time has been spent debating how these measures restrict the First Amendment rights of those who already have served their sentences.
Some of the measures being discussed include:
GPS monitoring devices
Requiring sex offenders to register their current address is not enough for the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office. The DA wants to require convicted sex offenders to wear GPS monitoring devices on their ankles once they are released from prison, a measure the Allegheny County Chiefs of Police also supports. The DA argues that the devices could be used to monitor the day-to-day activities of convicted sex offenders, with a particular interest when offenders get too close to schools, daycares, playgrounds and other places they are prohibited to go under Pennsylvania law.
Allegheny Councilman Vince Gastgeb not only supports the DA’s suggestion, but wants to take it one step further and place in-the-ground electronic fences around schools and other areas where children are present. When a person wearing a GPS device crosses one of the fences, then the police would be notified automatically by computer.
Social networking site restrictions
A bill has been proposed in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that potentially could ban convicted sex offenders from social networking sites like Facebook. Under the Pennsylvania Kids Act (HB 2742), convicted sex offenders and sexually violent predators would be required to provide the state police with their online identities and Internet accounts, which would include email addresses, personal Web sites, chat room aliases and online community memberships. The state police then would create a database with this information that would be accessible by internet service providers. While the law would not require providers to ban convicted offenders from social networking sites, they would be heavily “encouraged” to do so.
The bill has been gaining significant support in the House and from the police, who argue it will give law enforcement officers another tool to protect children from online predators. The Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU, however, has argued that the bill infringes on individual’s rights to free speech. During committee hearings, the ACLU correctly pointed out that those who have committed crimes and completed the terms of their punishments do not give up their First Amendment freedoms, including free speech, once they are released from prison.
Teen sexting bill
A bill that criminalizes sexting by minors was passed by the House of Representatives over the summer, and is currently sitting in the Senate Judiciary Committee. H.B. 2189 applies to 13 to 19 year olds and makes the knowing transmission, dissemination, viewing or possession of texts depicting sexually explicit conduct of other minors a crime. Under the proposed legislation, the penalties range from a summary offense to a second degree misdemeanor. The bill also provides alternative sentences to jail, including community service and educational programs.
The bill is supposed to fix a loophole in Pennsylvania law that allows teens caught sexting to be charged with felony child pornography charges. If convicted of the felony, teens could be required to register as sex offenders. While the bill would close the loophole, criminalizing the conduct raises serious constitutional concerns, including those of freedom of expression.
Sex offenders are treated differently from any other class of convicted offenders. The punishments for their crimes do not end once they are released from prison, but rather just begin. If you have been charged or are being investigated for committing a sex crime, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer today.