Bill upping penalty for fleeing on foot will just fill jails, lawyers warn | Tuesday Morning Coffee

Recently approved Senate legislation, inspired by a fallen Scranton police officer, will disproportionately impact Black defendants, defense attorneys say

November 9, 2021 7:12 am

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Criminal defense attorneys are warning that a get-tough bill upping the penalties on people who flee arrest on foot will needlessly fill jail cells even as it disproportionately targets defendants of color, according to a published report.

“I promise that most things that injure or hurt people are already prohibited,” Marni Jo Snyder, a criminal defense attorney, tells the Legal Intelligencer (sign-on required).

The Republican-controlled state Senate voted 36-14 last month to approve the bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna, and John Yudichak, I-Luzerne, sending it to the House for further action. The proposal is based on an existing law in Texas, the Legal Intelligencer reported.

If it’s eventually signed into law, violators fleeing for an underlying offense would face a third-degree felony if another person suffers serious bodily injury and a second-degree felony if someone dies as a result of the violation, the Capital-Star’s Marley Parish previously reported. The bill also creates a third-degree felony offense for cases where a police animal dies or suffers serious bodily injury and a second-degree misdemeanor if the animal suffers injury as a result of the violation.

Yudichak has said the legislation, inspired by the 2015 death of a Scranton police officer, addresses a “serious deficiency” in existing law.

Defense attorneys are not convinced.

“In all the years that I’ve been practicing—you know, I was licensed in 1993 then practiced as a prosecutor and then a defense attorney—I have never noticed any impact that this statute has on crime or police safety or public safety at all. Zero,” Grant Scheiner, a Texas attorney, and the former president of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, told the Legal Intelligencer.

“This is a time when we should be seeking police reform, not giving the police additional tools to make the lives of ordinary citizens more miserable,” he added.

Snyder told the Legal Intelligencer that the bill flies in the face of increased calls for the end of mass incarceration and that it will disproportionately target Black people.

(Photo via Flickr Commons)

During floor debate, Flynn, a former prison guard, stressed what he said was the accountability aspect of the bill, Parish reported.

“If you do a crime and you don’t comply, there should be effects for your decision,” Flynn said. “You should have to comply with the officers. We’re a nation of laws. If you don’t follow laws, there are consequences, and this bill finally puts some teeth in fleeing the scene for criminals.”

Matthew Mangino, a defense attorney and former Lawrence County prosecutor, told the Legal Intelligencer that the bill opens the door to unintended consequences.

“You’re gonna have situations where the matter at hand … is really a low-grade misdemeanor, and all of a sudden because a person is scared and they take off running, and an officer is injured seriously, it changes the whole dynamic of what was occurring,” he told the trade paper.

In a memo outlining its opposition to the bill, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania excoriated the proposal, arguing that it would “add to the tsunami of criminal offenses that arm police officers with more offenses to enforce (often selectively) and permit prosecutors to stack charges against defendants to use as leverage to force plea bargains, resulting in excessive incarceration.”

The bill’s “ill-defined provisions would create a toxic recipe for dangerously broad charges and would further exacerbate the grading inconsistencies that plague our crimes code,” the ACLU-PA asserted in its memo.

The bill is currently before the House Judiciary Committee.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Starting in January, Pennsylvania public schools should expect to be able to modify or terminate the state’s universal mask mandate, Stephen Caruso and Marley Parish report.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed 11,589 new cases of COVID-19 in the commonwealth during the three days between 11:59 p.m. on Friday, and 11:59 p.m. Sunday, bringing the statewide total to nearly 1.6 million new cases since the start of the pandemic, I report.

A Pittsburgh activist is looking to become Pennsylvania’s first openly LGBTQ member of Congress, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

The ACES Veterans Museum in Philadelphia will recognize the contributions of America’s Buffalo Soldiers and U.S. Colored Troops buried at the Philadelphia National Cemetery during Veterans Day ceremonies on Thursday, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz explains why Facebook isn’t facing its ‘Big Tobacco Moment.’ And while racists scored a win at the polls on Nov. 2, it doesn’t have to be that way in 2022, columnist Michael Coard, of the Philadelphia Tribune, writes.

Native American students at the Carlisle Indian School, circa 1899 (Image via the Library of Congress/Corbis Historical Collection/VCG via Getty Images/The Conversation).

PhillyMag has the story on the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, a native tribe that’s fighting for both federal recognition, and to dispel the notion that there are no more indigenous people in the commonwealth.

During a custody hearing, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sean Parnell denied charges that he abused his estranged wife, the Post-Gazette reports.

Officials in Carlisle Borough, in Cumberland County, are considering mandatory inspections for rental propertiesPennLive reports.

School officials in Lancaster County are welcoming a mask-optional 2022LancasterOnline reports.

USA Today’s Pennsylvania Capital Bureau looks at the push for stronger concealed carry laws now before the General Assembly.

In a new campaign, leaders in Bethlehem have declared their community ‘no home for hate,’ the Morning Call reports.

Luzerne County Council is set to vote today on a proposed revision to the local flood protection authority’s articles of incorporation, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

You can expect pricier Christmas trees this year — and get out there to shop early, the Reading Eagle reports.

Federal prosecutors have told jurors to hold IBEW boss John Daugherty and Councilman Bobby Henon ‘accountable’ as their corruption trial closes, WHYY-FM reports.

Lawmakers are plowing ahead with redistricting with little public oversight, WITF-FM’s Smart Talk reports. explains how the pandemic has added to the problems of already strained rural fire departments.

Despite their brick wall of opposition, Republicans insist that they love infrastructureTalking Points Memo reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:

What Goes On
The House comes in at 11 a..m, the Senate convenes at 1 p.m.
9 a.m., Main Rotunda: News conference by House Speaker Bryan Cutler and Sen. Ryan Aument, both Lancaster County Republicans.
9:30 a.m., Capitol Steps: ‘Medical Freedom’ rally. Yes, it’s what it sounds like.
9:30 a.m., East Rotunda: Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadephia, releases a report on poverty.
11 a.m., Fountain Plaza: Rally for home-based services for people living with disabilities.
12 p.m., Capitol Steps: Rally against human trafficking.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Chris Quinn
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Jeff Wheeland
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Sen. Jim Brewster
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Sen. Carolyn Comitta
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Sen. Cris Dush
8:15 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Mary Jo Daley
8:30 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Dan Frankel
9 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Mike Carroll
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Mike Zabel
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Carrie Lewis DelRosso
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Sen. Tim Kearney
Ride the circuit, and give at the max, and you’re out a very Tuesday session week $26,750 today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept
Best wishes go out this morning to Angie Mason Eyer in the House Dems’ press office, who celebrates today. Congratulations, and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s one from The Record Company to get your Tuesday morning rolling. It’s the bluesy and psychedelic ‘How High?’

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin scored his 741st career goal, as the Capitals bested Buffalo 5-3 on Monday night. Ovechkin is now tied for fourth with Brett Hull on the NHL’s all-time goals list.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.