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House of Representatives
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: February 27, 2015 03:59 PM
From: Representative Thomas R. Caltagirone
To: All House members
Subject: Innovative Funding for the Criminal Justice System
Our law enforcement communities are being squeezed by unrelenting cost increases, and a lack of sufficient resources to meet them. I am fearful that the stresses being applied to their budgets will eventually result in their inability to fulfill their basic missions. The situation calls for a creative way to solve this problem.

In the near future, I will be introducing legislation that will amend The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act by making the possession of a small amount of marijuana (under 30 grams) a summary offense. Currently the possession of a small amount of marijuana is an ungraded misdemeanor which is treated as a misdemeanor of the third degree with a maximum punishment of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. My bill will essentially expand the Philadelphia model of dealing with individuals who are found in possession a small amounts of marijuana statewide. In Philadelphia the possession of a small amount of marijuana is treated more like a parking ticket. A citation is issued and the offender pays a fine. District Attorney Seth Williams implemented this innovative program in June of 2010 and in October of 2014 Philadelphia City Council passed an ordinance to codify the program into law. It is important to note that my bill will not allow drug dealers to get off with a summary charge, they will be treated as they are today.

Police officers issuing citations rather than making arrests will have dramatic impacts on the criminal justice system and have a positive impact on state and local budgets. My hope is that the bill will make a clogged criminal justice system run more efficiently and individuals are not being imprisoned over possession of small amounts of marijuana. Instead of dealing with a misdemeanor offense, a summary citation can be issued which will expedite prosecutions of more serious crimes. This will result in less time in court and will eliminate unnecessary court appearances by both the accused and the police. Police officers will spend more time on the street enforcing laws instead of at preliminary hearings. State and local budgets will be helped because they will not have to pay overtime for officers sitting around all day at preliminary hearings. In addition, as a summary offense, a person will be able to seek an expungement of the conviction if they have been free of arrest for five years. This will allow those that make a small mistake the ability to have the offense erased from their criminal history, thus making them more likely to obtain gainful employment.

Last but not least, my bill will impose a minimum fine of $500 plus cost on offenders. To put the fine into proper context consider the fact that once possession of a small amounts of marijuana is graded as a summary offense the offender can simply send in payment rather than hiring a high priced defense attorney. The fines and costs will amount to less than half of what a criminal defense attorney would charge to defend such a case. Plus, the funds will be allocated to fund our law enforcement communities and the general fund. The allocation of the funds in my bill are as follows: Pennsylvania State Police crime lab and cadet classes ($50), the Judiciary ($50), the Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund ($50), Municipal Police Officers’ Education & Training Commission ($50), the district attorney in the county where the citation is issued for drug court costs ($50), the Attorney General’s office ($50), the PA Access to Justice Account ($50), Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency ($50) and the General Fund ($100).

I hope you will join me and co-sponsor this smart on crime legislation.

Introduced as HB819