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New "Revictimization" Law Stirs Controversy

PHOTO: Andy Hoover of the Pennsylvania ACLU says the state's new Revictimization Relief Act is unconstitutional. Governor Tom Corbett signed the bill into law on Tuesday. Photo credit: Pennsylvania ACLU.
PHOTO: Andy Hoover of the Pennsylvania ACLU says the state's new Revictimization Relief Act is unconstitutional. Governor Tom Corbett signed the bill into law on Tuesday. Photo credit: Pennsylvania ACLU.
October 23, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Days after convicted murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal delivered a taped address at his alma mater at Godard College in Vermont, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed the state's Revictimization Relief Act into law near the site of the 1981 slaying of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner - the crime Abu-Jamal was found guilty of.

Abu-Jamal has maintained his innocence in the murder, and did so again in his recorded remarks.

Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, says the new law allows law-enforcement officials or a victim of a personal-injury crime to ask a civil court to stop a person with a criminal conviction from engaging in conduct the victim claims perpetuates "mental anguish."

"The bill is over-broad, vague, and really undermines the fundamental free speech rights in the First Amendment," says Hoover. "It's asking judges to pre-emptively stop speech before it happens."

Hoover says the law could even apply to former prisoners who've been out of jail for years.

Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm says the law is not about free speech, but about conduct. She says there has been "too much focus" on the free-speech element of the law, and strongly supports the sweep of the law's language and apparent intent.

"The bill was meant to be broad in order to capture any and all potential scenarios," she says. "We truly want the judge to be able to have full discretion to look at the conduct that is being put forth."

Hoover says crime victims already had legal recourse before the bill was signed.

"Civil law allows a person to bring a claim against someone for the intentional infliction of emotional distress," he says. "There is criminal law in Pennsylvania that allows a D.A. to bring a charge of harassment."

According to Hoover, the ACLU will file a lawsuit within a month against the new law.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - PA