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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: June 26, 2017 11:18 AM
From: Senator Guy Reschenthaler and Sen. Sharif Street
To: All Senate members
Subject: Increasing Funding for the Unified Judicial System, Indigent Criminal Defense, Relieving Rape Kit Backlog, and Reinstating Funding for County Crime Labs
In the near future, we plan on introducing legislation that will provide additional funding for the Unified Judicial System, create an indigent criminal defense fund, create a fund to relieve the backlog of rape kits, and reinstate state funding for the two county crime labs. This funding will be provided by removing an exemption for certain filing fees on summary traffic citations.

With over 1 million guilty conviction or guilty plea summary traffic citations, the total funding from this proposed legislation would provide more than $21 million that would be used for the following:
  • $11.5 million to fund Unified Judicial System’s (UJS) general operations
  • $2 million to create a state fund for indigent criminal defense
  • $2 million to be applied toward relieving the backlog of rape kit testing statewide
  • $6 million to reinstate funding for the two non-state police crime labs in Allegheny County and Philadelphia
Each of the recipients listed above will utilize the additional revenue to better serve citizens throughout the Commonwealth.

The US Supreme Court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright that free counsel for criminal defendants who cannot afford to hire an attorney is mandated upon the states by the 6th Amendment of the US Constitution. After fifty years, Pennsylvania is the ONLY state that does not appropriate funds to assist counties in complying with the Gideon constitutional mandate. Pennsylvania should establish and provide for a center that supports the delivery of these services to indigent criminal defendants in Pennsylvania. This modest $2 million fund could save millions a year in wrongful incarcerations, mistrials, appeals, and pretrial costs.

The Unified Judicial System (UJS) requested an increase of $26.5 million from last year’s General Fund appropriation. Over 50% of the requested increase funds nondiscretionary cost increases including health insurance, mandated judicial COLA’s, and pensions. This proposed $11.5 million increase in non-tax revenue could reduce their impact on our budget by almost 50%.

According to Auditor General DePasquale, law enforcement and crimes labs reported 3,044 total rape kits awaiting testing in Pennsylvania, and 1,852 total rape kits that are backlogged. It could cost as much as $6 million to test all the kits in Pennsylvania. This $2 million in new state funding combined with additional grants and federal funding would be critical to reaching the goal of testing every rape kit in Pennsylvania.

From the 2000-2001 budget to the 2012-2013 budget, state reimbursements for the Allegheny County Office of the Medical Examiner (ACOME) fell from $7.5 million to $0. Both the Philadelphia Office of Forensic Science and ACOME receive thousands of evidence submissions and serve federal, states and local law enforcement agencies throughout their respective regions. This $6 million in funding will support them in accomplishing their important work.

We hope you will join us in co-sponsoring this legislation. Please contact Elise Argall at eargall@pasen.gov or Micah Mahjoubian at micah@pasenate.com with any questions.