Philadelphia is getting ready to host the Democratic National Convention in the last week of July (July 25-28). In addition to getting the City ready physically through various construction and reconstruction projects, Philadelphia City Council, and other political leaders including Mayor Jim Kenny, are looking for ways to make sure police and other public safety resources are allocated appropriately. Right now, in Philadelphia, a police officer will arrest you for any of the following crimes:
These crimes are summary offenses and account for over 10,000 crimes in the city each year. If a person fails to properly address these violations, a judge can and will issue a bench warrant which could land the person in jail and lead to additional criminal charges like contempt of court. Philadelphia’s newest proposal, however, is aimed at these low level summary offenses in an attempt to remove them from the criminal justice system in favor of a civil ordinance violation.
Just like Philadelphia’s marijuana decriminalization law, Philadelphia police will no longer arrest someone for these offenses but rather issue a citation which, if not paid, will result in a civil judgement and not criminal contempt action. As it stands right now these low level summary offenses require not only police action but court administration time and other city resources (prison, sheriff). In most situations these low level criminal offenses result in fines anyway and, in most cases, the expungement of a person’s arrest record. The City’s goal is twofold when it comes to these offenses – save resources and to improve the economy.
From an economic standpoint, even low level criminal offenses can create future employment problems for individuals because some employers will immediately eliminate a potential employee for any type of criminal offense even if the offense is a low level disorderly conduct. Many larger employers believe that criminal conduct creates potential issues down the road and there are many other applicants who don’t have this issue.
It is important to understand that the city isn’t changing the Pennsylvania’s Crimes Code; it can’t do this under Pennsylvania’s Constitution. While Philadelphia is a “class A” city, its city council can’t make laws which conflict with the laws of the Commonwealth. Like the Marijuana Decriminalization bill, Philadelphia is simply choosing not to enforce the crimes code when it comes to these low level offenses.
Criminal offenses are much more serious then civil penalties regardless of their grade (felony, misdemeanor, summary). Criminal violations often stigmatize a person as a future problem or someone who doesn’t respect authority. While civil violations can also cause problems, there is much less of a stigmatism for those matters.
I always advise consulting with an attorney even if police tell you that it’s not necessary and you are simply “wasting your money”. We should respect police officers but know that they would prefer if we chose the path of least resistance in order to make their jobs easier. The path of least resistance, however, isn’t necessarily the best path for you and for more information about criminal offenses in Pennsylvania I encourage you to read my books, subscribe to my monthly newsletter, or watch one of my videos.