A Pennsylvania county has detained alleged probation violators for months without a court hearing to examine their cases, the American Civil Liberties Union claimed in a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday, where plaintiffs argue the practice is an unconstitutional deprivation of liberty.
Montgomery County, just north of Philadelphia, has a practice of holding people in jail for probation violations and waiting weeks or months for their trial to determine whether they should be sent back to prison. ACLU argues in a lawsuit filed in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court that the practice denies these individuals the right to due process.
Supreme Court judgments since 1973, Gagnon v. Scarpello, Establishing that those who face revocation of their probation have the right to a first hearing. Although withdrawing someone’s trial is not technically a new punishment, but an earlier sentence has been re-imposed, the court ruled 7-1 that it could nevertheless cause considerable loss of liberty, and therefore these defendants deserve due process. Imagine the possible consequences otherwise: only one person can go to jail for months or even years Complaint That they have violated probation.
In Montgomery County, defendants spend weeks or months in jail for this hearing. According to the ACLU case, this is basically a form of punishment that pushes defendants to convict them of a violation in the hope that the judge will release them from prison. Without any kind of judicial assessment, probationers are sometimes detained for long periods of time for minor offenses or even technical violations – such as missed meetings with probation officers. These are problems that can be solved without getting these people back into the cell.
The ACLU represents six people caught in the system, and is looking for more plaintiffs to join the class action. Charles Gamber, a plaintiff, has been in jail since August without a hearing because he “allegedly failed to complete a voluntary mental illness, did not take his medication as prescribed, and could not afford to pay the 100 fine.” There is such an argument in the case
The customs, practice or policy of the 38th Judicial District is to automatically detain everyone who has been accused of violating the terms of their probation or parole, resulting in prolonged and unconstitutional detention. Applying such an irrefutable assumption of detention pending a final revocation process, especially without any means of contesting captivity, constitutes a separate and independent constitutional appropriate process violation under both the Pennsylvania and U.S. constitutions.
The lawsuit named the chief judge and administrators of the 38th Judicial District of Montgomery County. The lawsuit calls on the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court to rule that the detention practices violate the constitutions of both Pennsylvania and the United States, and the county court to order the detention of probation violators without a timely hearing.
The Philadelphia explorer In 2019 it was reported how the Montgomery County detention system jailed accused probation violators. They covered the case this week and noted that leaders of the Montgomery County Board of Commission support the Pennsylvania Senate Bill 5, which would limit entry-related detention. Changes will include a 30-day detention limit for “administrative” or technical violations. The bill would further require that, before placing an examinee in jail for non-payment of fines or recovery, the court must determine whether he is financially incapable of paying or simply refusing to do so. For those who keep their records clean, the bill will allow an initial audit after 18 months.
SB 5, despite being co-sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, has sat on the Senate Judiciary Committee since its launch in March and has no recorded votes. Maybe a class-action lawsuit will force some consideration.