Pennsylvania State Constables

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Pennsylvania State Constable)
Jump to: navigation, search

A Pennsylvania State Constable is an office held in Pennsylvania. It is the constable's job to enforce the law and carry it out, just the same as the job of district attorneys, sheriffs and the police generally" (see tn r» Act 147 of 1990, 528 Pa., at470, 598 A.2d 9S5[verification needed]). In fact, Pennsylvania constables have the right in Pennsylvania to arrest by warrant anywhere in the commonwealth, and to conduct warrantless arrests for felonies and breaches of the peace, including warrantless arrests for felony violations of the drug laws (see Commonwealth v. Taylor, 450 Pa. Super. 583, 596, 677 A.2d 846,852 [Pa. 1996]). They also have statutory powers of arrest in certain situations (see e.g. 32 P.S. S582; S3 P.S. §13349. Constables are exempt from the legal requirement to have a license to carry for a firearm in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as they meet the definition of "Qualified Law Enforcement Officer" under the provisions of §18 USC 926b, the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act.

Definition of a Pennsylvania Constable[edit]

A constable is a local elected official and serves six-year terms.[1]

Constables belong to the executive branch of government. As such, they are answerable to the governor of Pennsylvania. However, they are not formally overseen by any state agency. They perform services for the Pennsylvania Magisterial courts, but do not belong to the judicial branch. With regard to their judicial services, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has found constables to be "independent contractors that orbit the judiciary."[2]

In Pennsylvania, constables are peace officers.[3][4] As such, they are also empowered to quell a disturbance of the peace. A disturbance of the peace in Pennsylvania is defined as an imminent threat or danger to persons or property. For example, if a constable observes a public brawl, then the constable may arrest the participants for breaching the peace. According to Pennsylvania common law, a citizen may also have a "limited" power of arrest commonly known as a citizens arrest for felonies committed in view, but they are not given the shroud of authority a constable, sheriff or other law enforcement officer is given.[5]

Duties of a Constable[edit]

Protecting the Polls[edit]

Constables are required by Pennsylvania statute to maintain order at election polls and ensure that no qualified elector is obstructed from voting. Constables are the only peace officers permitted at the polls on election day. Failure to protect the polls, or provide for their protection through appointed deputies, is punishable by fine.[6]

Constables are paid a fixed fee for performing this duty.

Working for the Courts[edit]

Constables may serve the court, but are not required to. When serving the judiciary, constables may serve judicial process, writs, arrest warrants, levies and collect fines. These services are regulated by Act 49 of the Pennsylvania statutes. The constable is paid for these services by fees which are specified in the statutes, and paid by the defendant in criminal cases or the plaintiff in civil cases.

In some Pennsylvania counties, Constables provide courtroom security and transport prisoners. Chester and Berks Counties use constables for all prisoner transports and courtroom security.

Training[edit]

Constables are required to complete Act 49 certification and training before performing any court duties, including execution of arrest warrants.[citation needed] In order to carry a firearm on duty, Constables must complete the firearms-portion of Act 49 as well, which is 40 hours.[citation needed]

Basic Act 49 training is provided by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), the course is 80 hours of classroom instructions on the follow subjects: use of force, professional development, civil law, criminal law, prisoner transport, courtroom security, defensive tactics, OC and baton, mechanics of arrest, role of the constable, and crisis intervention. Constables must pass each subject by scoring at least 70% on a written exam.

Each year, Constables must take 40 hours of Continuing Education to keep their certification; this includes 20 hours Con Ed for basic certification and 20 hours Con Ed for firearms.

Discipline and Removal[edit]

A Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas judge may remove a constable for misfeasance, malfeasance, or acts of oppression.[7] Malfeasance is defined as a breach of a positive statutory duty or of performing a discretionary act with an improper or corrupt motive.[3][citation needed] If a court finds that a constable committed misfeasance, malfeasance, or an acts of oppression, the court may then find that the constable is unfit for office and remove him from office as constable.[3][citation needed]

State Filing Requirements[edit]

As elected public officials, constables are required to file an annual Statement of Financial Interests with the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission.[8]

Deputy Constables[edit]

Each constable may, with approval of the President Judge in the county the constable is elected in, appoint deputies to work under his authority. Each deputy is given the same authority as the constable himself, but serves at the pleasure of the elected constable.[9]

In order to have a deputy constable appointed, the constable must file a petition with the Court of Common Pleas and state the reasons a deputy is needed.[10] A constable must show that a deputy constable is needed due to the volume of business or constable workload.[4]

A constable may appoint election day deputy constables to monitor polling places in their elected districts.[citation needed]

Controversy[edit]

Media Coverage[edit]

Controversy over the role of constables in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has been raised by the print media, including the Associated Press. Among the issues the press has alleged are a lack of oversight and training that constables receive. Since constables are not directly supervised by the executive branch or the courts, it is claimed that they have been able to escape accountability.

One Associated Press series reviewed the constabulary’s legal status and asserted that (i) there are no minimum qualifications to hold the office, (ii) the system remains wide open for abuse, and (iii) that state-wide reform had failed on at least two prior occasions.[11][12][13][14]

Some of the incidents highlighted by the press include:

  • In July 2014, an unnamed PA State Constable attempted to serve a resident of Lehigh County with a warrant for 31 unpaid parking tickets. The driver of the car accruing said tickets, Kevin McCullers, was shot by the unnamed Constable while backing out of his driveway.[15]
  • In November 2011, a Pennlive.com article featured two PA constables, one from Cumberland County and another from Dauphin County, who were upset over a new PennDOT policy that prohibited their access to free municipal license plates.[16]
  • In February 2007, New Kensington police charged a Westmoreland County constable with drunken driving after a crash in which the constable was injured.[17]
  • In February 2005, a Chester County constable issued his letter of resignation to Chester County’s President Judge with the understanding that, in exchange, he would not be prosecuted for any sexual assault charges arising from his transport of a female prisoner.[18]
  • In June 2003, a western Pennsylvania constable was allegedly indicted for lending his badge to a German man who was attempting to avoid airport security. The constable then was accused of lying about his role in the incident to federal agents. He was later exonerated and found innocent on all counts.[19]
  • Constables who fatally shot three pet dogs in Allentown in 2003 agreed to settle lawsuit for $320,000. They had been serving warrants for unpaid parking tickets.[20]
  • A Cambria County constable was a known leader of the Ku Klux Klan, but continued in his constable post.[12]

Constable Reaction[edit]

Some Pennsylvania constables have also pointed out that media reportage itself plays a part in shaping public perception. For example, a Pennsylvania State Policeman was convicted of nearly decapitating a dentist,[21] but this was not reported as an example of an alleged "Controversy over Pennsylvania State Police." Such coverage might itself fuel a perception of "widespread abuse" among the Pennsylvania State Police, just as recent news articles are cited as evidence of systemic problems with the Pennsylvania Constabulary. A similar phenomenon in the early 2000s led to a perception that child abductions were on the rise, when in fact they were rare and decreasing in frequency[22]

List of Removed or Disciplined Constables[edit]

  • Kelly Deardorff, Elected Constable from York County, Pennsylvania - Kelly Deardorff pled guilty to failing to file federal income taxes from 2001 to 2005. Deardorff was the elected Pennsylvania State Constable from York County, Pennsylvania. According to Federal Prosecutors, Deardorff did not report income received from his activities as a State Constable. Deardorff admitted on February 5, 2008 that he earned more than $680,000 over that five-year period and did not file his tax returns. He was sentenced to 13 months in Federal Prison with a year of Federal supervision after that.[23][24]
  • Thomas L. Holt, Elected Constable from Bernville, Berks County, Pennsylvania - Thomas L. Holt was charged with submitting false bills for reimbursement for arresting and transporting people to court wanted on warrants. However, Berks County prosecutors alleged that those people paid their fines directly at District Court and did not even meet the constable. Berks County President Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl issued an order to all district judges in Berks County directing the Courts to withhold work from Holt. Holt is awaiting charges of Theft by Unlawful Taking, Receiving Stolen Property, False Swearing, Tampering with Public Records, Unlawful Use of a Computer, and related offenses.[25]
  • Dennis J. Mulligan, Elected Constable from Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania - Dennis J. Mulligan was charged with submitting false bills for reimbursement for arresting and transporting people to court wanted on warrants. However, Berks County prosecutors alleged that those people paid their fines directly at District Court and did not even meet the constable.[25]
  • Hector Carrillo, Elected Constable from Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania - Hector Carrillo was convicted of charging the county $203 after fraudulently reporting that he had transported people to court on May 6, 2008. [3]
  • Dane A. Spring, Elected Constable from Upper Tulpehocken Township, Berks, Pennsylvania - Dane A. Spring was convicted for trying to steal millions of dollars from an armored-car company's cash storage vault in Muhlenberg Township.[4]
  • Bradley A. Buchanan, Elected Constable from Birdsboro, Berks, Pennsylvania - Bradley A. Buchanan was removed from performing constable duties after his arrest on charges he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl he met on Facebook. [5]
  • Steven Sokoloff, Appointed Deputy Constable from Lower Merion, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania - Prosecutors alleged that Sokoloff handcuffed the wrong man at an East Norriton car dealership and then refused to release the man after finding out that he had the wrong person. Sokoloff was stripped of his power by a Montgomery County judge, who signed an order removing Sokoloff from office as a deputy constable.[26] In February 2009, Sokoloff filed to run for constable in Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County.[27] The District Attorney, Risa Vetri Ferman, filed a petition for contempt of court against Sokoloff, because Sokoloff agreed to never run for constable in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania again.[28][citation needed] Ferman, citing Sokoloff's "mind numbing arrogance" stated that Sokoloff "might as well walk up to the judge and spit in his eye."[28][citation needed] Sokoloff is currently awaiting his contempt hearing.
  • Michael M. Solow, Elected Constable from West Conshohocken, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania - Prosecutors alleged that Solow evicted a person from their own home without ever having a court hearing. Prosecutors also alleged that Solow searched another woman's house without ever having a search warrant. According to the Associated Press, Solow had a history of abusing his power. This included a high speed chase through Lower Merion and Philadelphia after police discontinued the chase for safety reasons. Solow reportedly caused damage to several cars and property during the chase[29] Solow was removed by Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Paul W. Tressler on December 31, 2008 for misfeasance, malfeasance, and acts of oppression.[30]
  • Peter J. Wirs, Elected Constable from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania - Peter J. Wirs was, as later admitted in Federal court, falsely convicted of theft and served jail time when he attempted to order 23 Crown Victorias from a car dealership. Prosecutors alleged that Wirs attempted to order 23 Crown Victoria's in an attempt to expand the traditional duties of constables. Wirs wanted to set up a task force to investigate prostitution and pull motorists over.[31] However, the Dauphin County District Attorney later admitted Wirs was factually innocent of all charges.[32]
  • Jack Garner, Elected Constable from South Hanover Township, Pennsylvania. Jack Garner was convicted of official oppression and impersonating a police officer after confronting female motorists in two traffic and littering incidents in Lower Paxton Township. Garner was sentenced to four months of work release confinement and 10 years of probation.[33]
  • Brian Frankhouser, Elected Constable from Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. Brain Frankhouser was sentenced to 10 days to 1 year in jail over charges in connection with two separate incidents: charges of retaliation against a prosecutor, terroristic threats, aiding in an escape and interfering with the custody of an inmate.[34]

Proposed Reform[edit]

On December 30, 2008, Ronald Castille, the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court told the Associated Press that the Court was studying implementing state-wide regulations, including issuing a state-wide constable handbook.[35] Castille further stated that the Supreme Court's minor rules committee was studying the Chester County Constable Handbook and would welcome input from judges across the Commonwealth in making a determination.

State Representative Tom Caltagirone, the former chairman of the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee was working on possible reforms to the constable system. According to the Associated Press, Caltagirone met with the Pennsylvania State Constable Association and the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Constables to outline his proposal for reform.[36]

In addition to state-wide reform, at least one county has issued an order limiting constables' access to court documents. Following the arrest of two constables and one district court staff in Berks County, Berks County President Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl issued an order limiting constables' access to court files. Specifically, constables in Berks County can only access the same court records as the public. Schmehl also directed all District Judges to retrieve from all constables any and all keys to District Court that constables may have.[37]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ see 13 Pennsylvania Statutes § 1 to 15, 21 to 23, 31, 41 to 46, 64, 67, 72 to 75, 82, 87 and 88 (2007), see also Preno Petition, 77 Pa. D & C 193 (1951); In re: Appointment of Hunter, 782 A.2d 610 (Pa. Commw. 2001); National Cash Register Co. v. Berg, 99 Pa. Super. 34 (1930)
  2. ^ In Re: Act 144 of 1990, Pennsylvania Supreme Court (1994).
  3. ^ a b c Id.
  4. ^ a b In re: Appointment of Hunter, 782 A.2d 610 (Pa. Commw. 2001)
  5. ^ ""Id".
  6. ^ (PA Consolidated Statutes)
  7. ^ 13 Pennsylvania Statutes § 31
  8. ^ "Ethics". Ethics.state.pa.us. Retrieved 2010-03-30. 
  9. ^ 13 Pennsylvania Statutes § 21
  10. ^ Preno Petition, 77 Pa. D & C 193 (1951).
  11. ^ Scolforo, Mark, Chief Justice: Constable System a Medieval Remnant, Associated Press, July 31, 2008.[dead link]
  12. ^ a b Scolforo, Mark, Constable Misconduct in Pa. Sparks Calls for Reform, Associated Press, July 30, 2008.
  13. ^ Scolforo, Mark, AP: Barriers Exist to Pa. Constable System Reforms, Associated Press, July 29, 2008.
  14. ^ Scolforo, Mark, Prisoner Excapes a Problem for Pennsylvania Constables, Associated Press, July 30, 2008
  15. ^ NBC Philadelphia, Man Shot, Paralyzed Over 31 Unpaid Parking Tickets July 18, 2014
  16. ^ Pennlive, 2 midstate constables fight PennDOT over municipal license plates, November 12, 2011
  17. ^ Chuck Biedka, New Kensington Constable Charged with DUI, Valley News Dispatch, February 28, 2007
  18. ^ Gina Zotti, Warrant Officer Asked to Resign, Dailylocal.com, 2/11/05
  19. ^ Constable Charged in Airport Badge Scam, Associated Press State News, June 11, 2003
  20. ^ Matthew Birkbeck, Constables Who Fatally Shot 3 Dogs in 2003 Agree to Settle Suit for $320,000, The Morning Call, posted Nov. 3, 2006
  21. ^ [1] Jury Reaches Guilty Verdict In Trooper's Murder Trial
  22. ^ [2] A parent's worst nightmare: Are child abductions on the rise?
  23. ^ Hoover, Mike, Tax evading constable gets 13-month jail sentence, The Evening Sun, May 24, 2008.
  24. ^ Press Release,YORK COUNTY CONSTABLE PLEADS GUILTY TO FAILING TO FILE INCOME TAX RETURNS FOR FIVE YEARS, U.S. Department of Justice, Middle District of Pennsylvania.
  25. ^ a b Kelly, Dan,Two Berks constables, district judge's secretary charged in billing taxpayers in no-work scheme, Reading Eagle, September 23, 2008.
  26. ^ CBS3 Philadelphia,Constable Loses Power After Ticket Flap, posted October 18, 2007.
  27. ^ KYW 1060.com, Montco DA Scorns Actions of 'Arrogant' Former Constable
  28. ^ a b ""Id"".
  29. ^ Action News Philadelphia,Montgomery County Constable Faces Charges, Posted April 29, 2008.
  30. ^ Scolforo, Mark, Constable outside Philadelphia removed by judge, Associated Press, January 9, 2009.
  31. ^ Scolforo, Mark,Constable misconduct in Pa. sparks calls for reform, Associated Press, July 30, 2008.
  32. ^ Wirs v Davis 3cv01-2150 2002.
  33. ^ http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2011/04/constable_jack_garner_convicte.html
  34. ^ http://www.lewistownsentinel.com/page/content.detail/id/531743/Constable-sentenced-to-at-least-10-days-in-jail.html?nav=5010
  35. ^ Scolforo, Mark, Pa. courts consider statewide constable standards, Associated Press, December 30, 2008.
  36. ^ Scolforo, Mark Pa. courts consider statewide constable standards, Associated Press, December 30, 2008.
  37. ^ Kelly, Dan,Restrictions for constables and police, Reading Eagle, September 23, 2008.

External links[edit]