University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor and Students Aid Pennsylvania Lawmakers in Reforming Criminal Law
Dec. 11, 2009
PHILADELPHIA -- University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Paul Robinson and his students have found Pennsylvania’s criminal law commonly contains irrational penalties, in which less serious offenses are treated more harshly than more serious offenses. At the request of the Pennsylvania House and Senate Judiciary Committees, Penn Law’s “Criminal Law Research Group” has been studying the state’s criminal offenses. The group’s recommendations will assist the Legislature in writing legislation to rationalize offense penalties and grades throughout Pennsylvania’s criminal law.
“By its nature, the legislative process is piecemeal and tends to focus on just the specific criminal offense at hand, while paying little attention to how a new offense fits in with existing offenses,” Professor Robinson said. "The result is that the hundreds of criminal statutes passed in recent years commonly conflict with existing law, and conflict with people's views."
Professor Robinson and his students did a survey of Pennsylvania residents from across the state to see how their judgments about offense seriousness compared to that contained in recent legal amendments. They found numerous examples of problems. For instance, reading another's email without permission is graded by the Pennsylvania residents in the survey as being as serious as the offense of annoying another person with no legitimate purpose, a summary offense, which has a maximum sentence of 90 days. But under current law, the email-reading offense is graded as if it were similar in seriousness to robbery, a 3rd degree felony, which has a maximum sentence of 7 years.
“It’s important to have a criminal code that reflects what Pennsylvanians think the law should be,” says Matthew Majarian, a Penn Law student. “If the law accords with what people think, they are more inclined to comply with it.”
Professor Robinson and his students will present their findings on Dec. 15 to a joint session of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees at 10 a.m. in Room 8A-E in the State Capitol Building in Harrisburg.
The report is available at http://www.law.upenn.edu/cf/clrg/painfo.html