Legislative Testimony

Legislative Testimony by Criminal Defense Lawyers: Advocating for Justice and Legal Reforms

Legislative testimony is a crucial aspect of the democratic process, where criminal defense lawyers have the opportunity to provide expert insights, legal perspectives, and recommendations on proposed legislation before lawmakers. This testimony, often delivered during legislative hearings, plays a vital role in shaping laws and policies related to the criminal justice system. Here's an explanation of what legislative testimony entails and its significance:

What is Legislative Testimony?

Legislative testimony is a formal statement or presentation provided by individuals or organizations with expertise or vested interests in a particular area of law or policy. Criminal defense lawyers, as legal experts, are frequently called upon to offer their insights and opinions on proposed bills, regulations, or legal reforms related to criminal justice.

The Components of Legislative Testimony:

Expertise: Criminal defense lawyers draw upon their deep knowledge of criminal law, legal precedents, and courtroom experience to provide well-informed perspectives on the proposed legislation.

Perspectives: Testimony can include a range of perspectives, such as legal analysis, case examples, and real-world implications of the proposed changes. Lawyers may discuss how the legislation could impact defendants, victims, law enforcement, and the broader community.

Recommendations: Testifying lawyers often suggest amendments, revisions, or alternative approaches to improve the proposed legislation, ensuring it aligns with principles of justice, fairness, and constitutional rights.

Impact Assessment: Lawyers may present evidence and data to support their arguments, offering a comprehensive assessment of how the legislation may affect the criminal justice system, public safety, and individual rights.

Advocacy: Testimony also serves as a platform for criminal defense lawyers to advocate for policies that protect due process, ensure equitable treatment, and advance the cause of justice.

The Significance of Legislative Testimony:

Informed Decision-Making: Lawmakers rely on the expertise of criminal defense lawyers to make informed decisions about proposed legislation. Testimony provides legislators with a deeper understanding of the legal implications of their actions.

Balance and Oversight: Testimony helps maintain a system of checks and balances by ensuring that proposed laws do not infringe upon individual rights or create unintended consequences.

Public Awareness: Legislative hearings are public events, and testimony can raise awareness about important legal issues, engaging the public in the democratic process.

Policy Improvement: Criminal defense lawyers' recommendations can lead to amendments and improvements in legislation, resulting in more just and effective laws.

Preventing Injustice: By highlighting potential flaws or injustices in proposed legislation, lawyers play a crucial role in preventing harmful laws from being enacted.

Legal Precedent: Testimony can set legal precedents that influence future legislative decisions and court rulings.

How Lawyers Prepare for Testimony:

Preparing for legislative testimony involves a thorough review of the proposed legislation, research into relevant legal precedents, consultation with colleagues and legal experts, and the crafting of a well-structured and persuasive presentation.

In conclusion, legislative testimony by criminal defense lawyers is an essential mechanism for advocating for justice, protecting individual rights, and influencing the development of laws that shape the criminal justice system. It is a powerful tool that enables lawyers to use their expertise to benefit their clients, the legal profession, and society as a whole.

Below are PACDL's compelling legislative submissions below. We will continue to update these issues.

Bail:  Testimony was provided by David Erhard on behalf of PACDL before the House Democratic Policy Committee in April 2022. The testimony recognizes that represented individuals have diverse cultural, economic, and social backgrounds. Those difference raise a variety of considerations regarding the use of cash bail vs. alternative measures to incarceration. It noted that our justice system is built on subjective and ethical treatment of all. A defendant's wealth or lack thereof should not be a consideration within such a system.  That is why cash bail should be limited to the degree that the wealth of the accused cannot be the sole factor keeping that person in jail, particularly when non-monetary conditions will suffice. This approach in favor of more equitable considerations and just practices will ensure that as few people as possible are unnecessarily incarcerated. Read the full testimony at this link.

Evidence: PACDL submitted comments to proposed changes to Pa. R. Evid. 401 Comment.  It indicated that as a general rule, it supports additional language that would make it clear that a person's class is irrelevant and can only result in injecting prejudice into trial assessment. Read the entire letter.   

Grand Jury Reform:  Testimony Before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Investigating Grand Jury Task Force (December 4, 2017). PACDL also filed comments regarding the proposed criminal procedural rule 231 (grand jury secrecy) on May 10.  PACDL noted that the proposed language falls short because it fails to resolve ambiguous language that suggests it is appropriate to swear witnesses to secrecy. To read PACDL's comments, click here.  

Marsy's LawOpposition Memo to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Probation and Parole Reform:  Testimony before the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee (August 10, 2018).  In 2019, PACDL testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on probation and parole reform. Its written testimony can be found here.  

Re-sentencing Proposal:  PACDL submitted testimony on June 12, 2019 on the Commission's re-sentencing guidelines.  Read the testimony here.

Sentencing Risk Assessment:  Testimony before the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission (June 13, 2018) regarding the proposed assessment instrument.  PACDL informed the commission that the instrument's objective of reducing an individual's personal history to a mathematical equation based on their luck at birth will create illogical results.  In 2019, PACDL continued to voice its concerns before the Sentencing Commission's Risk Assessment proposal.

PACDL submitted written and presented oral testimony to the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission (Dec. 6, 2018) regarding the revised proposed risk assessment instrument.  Its testimony voiced concerns about the duplicative nature of the instrument, the violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and the financial impact.  PACDL called on the Commission to urge the General Assembly to rescind its mandate.

SORNA:  PACDL supports House Bill 1701 and submitted a position paper to House Judiciary Committee Chairpersons and the bill's prime sponsor.