[Pnews] Pa.'s Mumia Abu Jamal-inspired 'revictimization' law is 'manifestly unconstitutional, ' U.S. judge rules

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Apr 28 19:02:13 EDT 2015

  Pa.'s Mumia Abu Jamal-inspired 'revictimization' law is 'manifestly
  unconstitutional,' U.S. judge rules

<http://connect.pennlive.com/staff/mmiller/index.html>By Matt Miller | 
mmiller at pennlive.com <http://connect.pennlive.com/staff/mmiller/posts.html>

on April 28, 2015 at 6:16 PM

Calling it "manifestly unconstitutional," a federal judge on Tuesday 
overturned a new state law that proponents said was designed to prevent 
criminals from "revictimizing" those harmed by their wrongdoing.

In ruling against the Revictimization Relief Act, U.S. Middle District 
Chief Judge Christopher C. Conner found that the law, enacted last year, 
is too broad, too vague and blatantly violates the free speech 
protections of the U.S. Constitution.

The act was in large part a reaction to last year's decision by Goddard 
College in Vermont to invite Mumia Abu Jamal, who was convicted of the 
1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer, to speak at its commencement.

As adopted by the Legislature, the law barred those convicted of, and in 
some cases accused of, crimes from speaking or acting in ways that would 
re-traumatize their victims.

Plaintiffs ranging from Jamal to the Pennsylvania Prison Society, Prison 
Legal News, various media organizations and current and former prisoners 
challenged the law's legality during a hearing before Conner in 
Harrisburg last month. 

The attorney general's office defended the act, claiming it was 
justifiable to prevent criminals from causing their victims more harm.

Conner found the Constitution's First Amendment free speech guarantees 
trump such concerns, however.

"A past criminal offense does not extinguish the offender's 
constitutional right to free expression," the judge wrote. "The First 
Amendment does not evanesce at the prison gate, and its enduring 
guarantee of freedom of speech subsumes the right to expressive conduct 
that some may find offensive."

He also found the Revictimization Act to be 'unlawfully proposed, 
vaguely executed and patently over-broad."

"However well-intentioned in its legislative efforts, the General 
Assembly fell woefully short of the mark," Conner wrote.

Since former Gov. Tom Corbett signed it last fall, the act has had a 
"chilling effect" on the free speech of prisoners and on "entities who 
rely on that speech," he found. He noted, for example, that Free Speech 
Radio curtailed airing Jamal's weekly commentaries.

The judge also cited comments by the law's supporters that he said 
clearly show it was "championed primarily as a device for suppressing 
offender speech."

"The act's sponsor extolled its capacity to silence Abu Jamal in 
particular," Conner wrote. "And Gov. Corbett commended the Legislature 
for expeditiously passing a law that quells the 'obscene celebrity' of 
an 'unrepentant cop killer'."

The judge also blasted the law's "wholesale lack of definition" finding 
that it doesn't clearly state what kind of speech or actions it forbids. 
Nor, he found, does it specify "whether reactions to speech will be 
measured by any objective or subjective standard, or what level of 
(victim) 'anguish' will suffice" to trigger its enforcement.

"Short of clairvoyance, plaintiffs cannot determine in advance whether 
or to what extent a particular expression will impact a victim's 
sensibilities," Conner observed. "The result of these ambiguities is the 
very self-censorship identified by the (U.S.) Supreme Court as the 
hazard of vague legislation."
 From the ruling:

V. Conclusion

The First Amendment‟s guarantee of free speech extends to convicted 
felons whose expressive conduct is ipso facto controversial or 
offensive. The right to free expression is the shared right to empower 
and uplift, and to criticize and condemn; to call to action, and to beg 
restraint; to debate with rancor, and to accede with reticence; to 
advocate offensively, and to lobby politely. Indeed, the “high purpose” 
of the foremost amendment is perhaps best displayed through its 
protection of speech that some find reprehensible. Johnson, 491 U.S. at 
408-09 (“[Free speech] may indeed best serve its high purpose when it 
induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions 
as they are, or even stirs people to anger.” (quoting Terminiello v. 
Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4 (1949))). The United States Constitution 
precludes any state enactment that effectively limits expressive conduct 
when the essential injury is personal affront.13 See Coleman, 335 F. 
Supp. at 589.

The victims who have suffered at the hands of certain plaintiffs are not 
without remedies. Victims are free to protest inmate speech through 
demonstrations, picketing, or public debate. They may publish responsive 
leaflets and editorials. As Maureen Faulkner did, victims may air their 
grievances to the press. Indeed, the victims‟ discourse may include 
expressive conduct that plaintiffs themselves find objectionable. The 
First Amendment does not evanesce at any gate, and its enduring 
guarantee of freedom of speech subsumes the right to expressive conduct 
that some may find offensive.

/S/ CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge United 
States District Court

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