The Inquirer has two articles on changes in the Philadelphia criminal justice system that will certainly affect our clients:
1) Philly to start charging small drug charges as summary offenses rather than misdemeanors (Philly police in opposition)
The first change deals with how the Philadelphia DA will charge minor drug crimes. Rather than charge things like possession of small amounts of marijuana as a misdemeanor (which could carry jail time and is regarded as a low-end serious criminal offense), the DA will charge these crimes as summary offenses. A summary offense is the lowest level crime in Pennsylvania and is more akin to a traffic ticket than to a criminal offense. In fact, there is no jail time possible for a summary. As well, employers in Pennsylvania are not allowed to consider summary offenses when they make employment decisions. This means that an arrest for possession should not carry the same deleterious effects going forward as it has had in the past. Finally, as long as you have a clean record for the past five years, you can have a summary offense expunged, which means that people who are caught for minor drug offenses won’t be weighted down by a record for the rest of their lives.
The second change is a bit more out of our realm as CLS doesn’t do criminal work. What we can say is that increasing the number of cases that get past the preliminary hearing stage and to the trial stage will undoubtedly increase the number of convictions and guilty pleas, and along with this, will increase the number of Philadelphians with criminal records subjected to the terrible and life-altering collateral consequences that a record carries.