Pennsylvania law limiting speech of convicted felons declared unconstitutional
HARRISBURG, PA (WPMT) The Pennsylvania law that limits free speech of convicted felons is declared unconstitutional. In a 24-page ruling, U.S. Middle District Court Chief Judge Christopher Conner declared Pennsylvania’s Revictimization Relief Act to be in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The law was passed in response to outrage over Mumia Abu-Jamal’s commencement speech at Goddard College last fall. Jamal is a 1996 graduate of the Vermont school.
Jamal, 60, is serving a life sentence for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer. He was originally sentenced to death in the killing, but was re-sentenced to life in prison in 2012.
The commencement speech sparked outrage from the slain officer’s widow, family members, police and state lawmakers. That outrage led State Representative Mike Vereb to introduce the Revictimization Relief Act three days after Jamal’s speech. The proposed legislation passed both chambers of the General Assembly in less than two weeks’ time. The law was immediately challenged by opponents.
In his conclusion Judge Connor writes: “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.”