Starkly Undemocratic “Revictimization Relief Act” Must Face Judicial Scrutiny

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, and Harrisburg lawmakers hold a press conference for the Revictimization Relief Act on October 6th. Photo: Rep. Mike Turzai

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams (front, center), Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey (mid-left), and Harrisburg lawmakers hold a press conference for the Revictimization Relief Act on October 6th. Photo: Rep. Mike Turzai

Declaration Editorial

The “Revictimization Relief Act”, a legislative Frankenstein born from Mumia Abu Jamal’s commencement speech at Goddard College and reactionary hysteria from the law enforcement community with slogans such as “Remember the Victim”, will allow crime victims to petition courts to halt “conduct” (read: speech) of a felon that may cause the victim “mental anguish.” The text in full:

(D) DEFINITION.– AS USED IN THIS SECTION, THE TERM “CONDUCT WHICH PERPETUATES THE CONTINUING EFFECT OF THE CRIME ON THE VICTIM” INCLUDES CONDUCT WHICH CAUSES A TEMPORARY OR PERMANENT STATE OF MENTAL ANGUISH.

Democrats voting against the bill said it unfairly limits free-speech rights.

“This is the most extreme violation of the First Amendment imaginable,” said Sen. Daylin Leach (D – Montgomery). “You can punish certain, limited types of speech after the fact, such as in libel cases. But you can never – except for revealing state military secrets – be restrained from speaking before you speak.”

Senator Leach is absolutely correct.

The Revictimization Relief Act, which the state Senate passed on October 16th with a 37-11 vote in a most partisan fashion, is a page and a half of disturbing ambiguity. The legislation is a poorly-written and deeply undemocratic election season canard. For example, the Act gives the state dangerously-wide latitude to punish those who speak out against solitary confinement, physical abuse at the hands of prison officials, and much more – so long as it causes “mental anguish” to victims.

It is also worth noting that ex-offenders, who have paid their debt to society, could also be targeted by the Act.

Journalist Christopher Moraff asks this key question in a recent PennLive Op-Ed:

Who decides what constitutes mental anguish, and at what point is it enough to invoke protection?

The test of any democracy is tolerating the speech of those with whom we disagree, or even detest. Governor Tom Corbett, whose re-election prospects are grim at best, today signed this affront to the First Amendment’s prior restraint clause, a provision within the Bill of Rights that forbids a government from prohibiting an individual’s speech before it is made.

The Act is less about Abu-Jamal, as pols are cynically using the highly-contentious and emotional issue as a political tool, and more about this country’s long-espoused, but sometimes-honored, right to freedom of expression.

It is for the reasons stated above that this odious legislation must be challenged in court, and hopefully, relegated to the dustbin of history, before “Remember the Victim” becomes a reference to the Constitution itself.

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