July 7, 2011

HARRISBURG, PA – Legislation heading to the governor will help prosecutors hold drug dealers accountable when they sell lethal doses of illegal drugs, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association said today.  The bill also builds upon public safety and protection efforts prosecutors have called for this year, including the recently-passed ban on bath salts and other synthetic drugs and the yet-to-be passed fix for loopholes in Megan’s Law.

“Without this legislation, a drug dealer who kills our kids by selling or giving out illegal drugs will very likely go unpunished,” said Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico, who also is President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.  “Over the last few years, too many prosecutors have had to tell parents of kids who died after overdosing on illegal drugs that the person who gave their child the illegal drugs would face no significant sanction under Pennsylvania law.”

On Monday, the Senate unanimously passed HB 396, which would make it a first degree felony if a person intentionally gives, sells or distributes a controlled substance in violation of the law and the person dies as a result of using the substance. The maximum penalty would be 40 years incarceration. This legislation will soon be on its way to Governor Corbett.

“I am particularly grateful with the leadership of the bill’s prime sponsor, Representative Bernie O’Neill, as well as the unanimous votes by both the House and Senate in favor of this straight-forward, common-sense legislation,” said PDAA Vice-President and District Attorney of Crawford County, Francis Schultz.

The new legislation became necessary after a 2005 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision required prosecutors to prove that the defendant drug dealer acted with malice.  Because the victim in these cases is already dead, the decision placed an often difficult and more often impossible burden of proof rendering the law impotent.  As a result, those responsible for the deaths of others by delivering illegal drugs often go unpunished in Pennsylvania.

Marsico noted that H.B. 396 is part of the PDAA’s 2011-2012 legislative agenda, which includes recommendations from the front lines of fighting crime and ensuring that offenders are held accountable for their criminal acts.  Among those immediate priorities is legislation that would close unintended loopholes in Megan’s Law that permit out of state and transient sex offenders to escape registration requirements.  Similar legislation passed the General Assembly last session, but was vetoed by then-Governor Edward G. Rendell because it was combined with another, unrelated bill.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the legislature on matters such as closing the out of state and transient offender loopholes in Megan’s Law and other improvements to the criminal justice system,” Marsico said. A version of the Megan’s fix, H.B. 68 and H.B. 75 passed the House in early February.  The Senate version, S.B. 42 which only covers out of state offenders was reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 9.

Other PDAA priorities for this legislative session include:  identify ways of simultaneously improving public safety and controlling corrections costs; expand Pennsylvania’s use of DNA to identify criminals; update the Wiretap Act so that criminals are not more technologically advanced than law enforcement; and streamline the capital appeals process in order to shorten the endless appellate delays.