Governor Wolf Signs Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bills into Law
October 24, 2018
Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today signed commonsense, bipartisan criminal justice reform bills into law, including House Bill 163, sponsored by Representative Saccone, and Senate Bills 915 and 916, sponsored by Senator Greenleaf.
Governor Wolf first called for the General Assembly to pass commonsense criminal justice reform bills in April, and signed Clean Slate legislation into law in June. These new laws expand upon those accomplishments.
House Bill 163, now Act 95 of 2018, eliminates driver’s license suspensions for non-driving infractions.
“This commonsense legislation promotes smart sentencing reform so that an individual may be able to keep their driver’s license after it was taken away for non-driving infractions,” Gov. Wolf said. “Having a valid driver’s license can make a difference in finding and retaining employment, which can ultimately help with the payment of fines, cost and restitution, and a reduction in recidivism.
“This bill truly defines making sure the punishment fits the crime by allowing discretion in determining if taking away a driver’s license will provide for safety or do nothing more than be an unfair burden on an individual.”
“The suspension of a person’s driver’s license for offenses not related to driving has always been illogical and counter-productive,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “A driver’s license is essential for functioning in daily life for many people, especially in areas of the commonwealth where public transportation is limited. And with vast racial and economic disparities in the criminal justice system, this policy has disproportionately impacted people of color and the working poor.”
“The success of this bill shows what is possible when Republicans and Democrats work together on justice policies that are fair and thoughtful,” said Elizabeth Randol, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The legislature has played a major role in exacerbating the failed War on Drugs. Now our state lawmakers can be champions of unwinding it.”
“Thank you to Gov. Wolf for signing into law this common-sense policy that will make it easier for Pennsylvanians to successfully transition back to their communities after a conviction,” said Keir Bradford-Grey, chief of the Defender Association of Philadelphia. “This law removes an unreasonable barrier that kept people from securing employment because of non-driving, non-violent offenses. People often leave our criminal justice system more desperate – without the resources and supports they need to get back to their lives. This law is an important step toward changing that.”
Senate Bill 915, now Act 146 of 2018, extends the time a convicted individual has to file a post-conviction relief action to one year, from what was 60 days under current law.
“The 60-day requirement, established decades ago, was burdensome and needed to be changed,” Gov. Wolf said. “It created a hardship for too many individuals in possession of evidence that could aid in post-conviction relief. The new one-year rule is fair and could make a positive difference in the lives of many incarcerated individuals.”
Senate Bill 916, now Act 147 of 2018, updates Pennsylvania’s DNA testing law to reflect significant advances in technology and the lessons learned by criminal justice professionals since 2002. The legislation removes the supervision requirement that only people serving a sentence can apply for DNA testing. Expanded DNA testing has been used in overturning wrongful convictions and solving unsolved cases to benefit crime victims.
“This new law helps victims by potentially prosecuting a guilty party if DNA testing becomes available after a conviction and it helps those who have been denied the ability to prove their innocence because their sentence expired,” Gov. Wolf said. “Justice doesn’t have to end when a sentence ends if new DNA evidence is found. Now Pennsylvania joins 29 other states that have no incarceration or supervision requirement in their DNA law.”
The new law also allows those who plead guilty to access testing, requires the commonwealth to identify all physical evidence in a case, allows testing when new DNA testing technology becomes available, and matches DNA profiles in CODIS, the FBI’s DNA database.