Pennsylvania State Constables
Pennsylvania State Constables are elected by each borough, township and ward of cities, except Philadelphia, and serve six-year terms. Constables may be appointed by the President Judge of the county to serve out a term when an elected position becomes vacant. Constables and their deputies have the duty to preserve the peace and the authority to arrest by warrant anywhere in the Commonwealth, as well as make warrantless arrests in limited circumstances.
Role in Pennsylvania government
A Pennsylvania State Constable is an element of the executive branch of State Government and are answerable directly to the governor of Pennsylvania, but are authorized to perform judicial services by the judicial branch and considered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as "independent contractors" serving the court.
Constables are also police officers as defined Under Pennsylvania Statutes Title 3 "Any person employed or elected by this Commonwealth, or by any municipality and whose duty it is to preserve peace or make arrests or to enforce the law."
The powers of the State Constable and their deputies is set forth by Title 44 of Act 49 of 2009.
State Constables are empowered by statute to serve process for the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, including serving summons, subpoenas, orders, judgement levies and making arrests by warrant anywhere in the Commonwealth, and seize registration plates and cards on behalf of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. They are also empowered to direct traffic, make arrests without warrant for persons believed to be committing an offense against any law for the protection of forests and timber land and, in boroughs, breaches of the peace committed in their presence.
Additionally, where there is no coroner in commission in a county where a sheriff is party to a suit instituted in a court of the Commonwealth, a constable may be directed by the courts to perform the authorized duties of the coroner.
The sole duty Constables are required to fulfill by statute is 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.
A Pennsylvania State Constable may choose to exercise their ability to serve the judicial system, which can include serving warrants of arrest, mental health warrants, transporting prisoners, service of summons, complaints and subpoenas, and enforcing protection from abuse orders as well as orders of eviction and judgment.
Pennsylvania State Constables are required to complete basic training administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and receive certification before performing any judicial duties. The initial Basic Training course is 80 hours of classroom instructions on 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.
A separate firearms certification course is also administered by the PCCD, providing for 40 hours of intensive classroom and range instruction. Upon completing a course of fire a Constable receives firearms certification, authorizing him or her to carry a firearm while performing court duties.
Each year, Constables must take 40 hours of "Continuing Education" to maintain their certification; this includes 20 hours of legal updates and refreshers and 20 hours of range qualification time for firearms certified Constables.
Pennsylvania State Constables or their deputies, as other law-enforcement officers, are exempt from the requirement of a license to carry a concealed firearm. However, a Constable or Deputy Constable is prohibited from carrying a firearm while performing judicial duties without valid certification.
A Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas judge may remove a constable for misfeasance, malfeasance, or acts of oppression. Malfeasance is defined as a breach of a positive statutory duty or of performing a discretionary act with an improper or corrupt motive. If a court finds that a Constable committed misfeasance, malfeasance, or an act of oppression, the court may then find that the Constable is unfit for office and remove him from office as constable.
State filing requirements
Each constable may, with approval of the President Judge of the county in which 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.
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.
Additionally, a Constable may appoint "Election Day" deputy constables to monitor the polling places within their elected districts.
Controversy over the role of elected Constables in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has been raised by the print media, including the Associated Press.
One Associated Press series reviewed the constabulary's legal status and asserted that, as in many elected positions, (i) there are no minimum qualifications to hold the office, (ii) the system may be open for abuse, and (iii) that statewide changes had not been carried out on at least two occasions.
Some of the incidents highlighted by the press include:
- In July 2017, two Pennsylvania State Constables from Monroe County— Roger Metzgar of Tobyhanna Township, and Manuel Rodriguez of Delaware Water Gap — were charged with perjury and related offenses after lying under oath during court proceedings.
- In November 2011, a Pennlive.com article featured two Pennsylvania State 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.
- In February 2007, New Kensington police charged a Westmoreland County constable with drunken driving after a crash in which the constable was injured.
- 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.
- In June 2003, a western Pennsylvania constable was indicted for allegedly 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.
- 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.
- A Cambria County constable was a known leader of the Ku Klux Klan, but continued in his constable post.
- Lehigh County Constable, Howard "Chip" Altemos, was charged with aggravated assault after shooting a fleeing unarmed man who was wanted for failure to appear in court for traffic violations.
Removed or disciplined Constables
- Kelly Deardorff, Elected Constable from York County, Pennsylvania – Deardorff pleaded guilty to failing to file federal income taxes from 2001 to 2005. 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.
- 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.
- Dennis J. Mulligan, Elected Constable from Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania – 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.
- Hector Carrillo, Elected Constable from Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania – Carrillo was convicted of charging the county $203 after fraudulently reporting that he had transported people to court on May 6, 2008.
- Dane A. Spring, Elected Constable from Upper Tulpehocken Township, Berks, Pennsylvania – Spring was convicted for trying to steal millions of dollars from an armored-car company's cash storage vault in Muhlenberg Township.
- Bradley A. Buchanan, Elected Constable from Birdsboro, Berks, Pennsylvania – Buchanan was removed from performing constable duties after his arrest on charges he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl he met on Facebook.
- 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. In February 2009, Sokoloff filed to run for constable in Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County. 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.
- 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. 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.
- Peter J. Wirs, Elected Constable from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – In 1998, Peter J. Wirs was charged with fraud in connection to his ordering 23 Crown Victorias from a car dealership. Wirs attempted to procure the vehicles as part of an effort to expand the traditional duties of constables to include investigating prostitution and making traffic stops. He was convicted of theft and served jail time. Wirs, however, was later exonerated, by the judicial admission by the Dauphin County District Attorney that no crime occurred.
- 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.
- Brian Frankhouser, Elected Constable from Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. Brian 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.
On December 30, 2008, Ronald Castille, the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court told the Associated Press that the Court was studying implementing statewide regulations, including issuing a statewide constable handbook. Castille further stated that the Supreme Court's minor rules committee was studying the Berks and 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. However, no successful proposal was ever introduced.
Castille ordered a study of the constabulary in order to get a better reign on the situation in the state. The result was the 2014 Joint State Government Committee Constable Study. In addition to providing history of the constabulary and comparisons to other law enforcement entities, the 100-plus page review cited issues with the constabulary and offered ideas to fix them, including modification of Act 49 of 2009. The JSGC study was never acted upon during 2014 or 2015.
In 2014, new Constable Rules of Court were implemented by the Pa Supreme Court applicable to all constables. However, lacking a mechanism of enforcement and penalties for failure to follow, many counties and constables alike have chosen to ignore them. Some of the rules were requiring constables to be uniformed when providing services, installing safety barriers in transport vehicles, and so on.
- McCrary, Larry (October 6, 1997). "New Standards Will Police Pa.'s Old Constable System Those Untrained, Crony-friendly Days Are Numbered. Not Everyone Is Happy About That". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
- "44 PA C.S. § 7111, et al".
- "Commonwealth vs. Taylor, 450 Pa. Superior Ct. 583 (1996). 677 A.2d 846".
- "In RE: Act 147 of 1990 (PA Supreme Court)".
- "Title 44". The official website for the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Retrieved 2019-02-11.
- "Title 75 - VEHICLES". www.legis.state.pa.us. Retrieved 2019-02-11.
- "44 PA C.S. § 7152".
- "25 PA P.S. § 3047". Archived from the original on 2017-02-05.
- 2002 Amendment Act 172 added section 6105.1. § 6106
- "Ethics". Ethics.state.pa.us. Retrieved 2010-03-30.
- "44 PA C.S. § 7122".
- Scolforo, Mark, Chief Justice: Constable System a Medieval Remnant, Associated Press, July 31, 2008. Archived February 27, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
- Scolforo, Mark, Constable Misconduct in Pa. Sparks Calls for Reform, Associated Press, July 30, 2008
- Scolforo, Mark, Barriers Exist to Pa. Constable System Reforms[permanent dead link], Associated Press, July 29, 2008.
- Scolforo, Mark, Prisoner Excapes[sic?] a Problem for Pennsylvania Constables[permanent dead link], Associated Press, July 30, 2008
- "Two Monroe County constables charged with perjury, Pocono Record, July 5, 2017".
- Pennlive, Two Midstate Constables Fight PennDOT Over Municipal License Plates, November 12, 2011
- Chuck Biedka, New Kensington Constable Charged with DUI; Valley News Dispatch; February 28, 2007
- Gina Zotti, Warrant Officer Asked to Resign Archived 2012-02-29 at the Wayback Machine, Dailylocal.com, 2/11/05
- Constable Charged in Airport Badge Scam, Associated Press State News, June 11, 2003
- Matthew Birkbeck, Constables Who Fatally Shot 3 Dogs in 2003 Agree to Settle Suit for $320,000, The Morning Call, posted Nov. 3, 2006
- Hoover, Mike, Tax Evading Constable Gets 13-Month Jail Sentence, The Evening Sun, May 24, 2008.
- Press Release,York County Constable Pleads Guilty To Failing To File Income Tax Returns for Five Years Archived 2008-12-28 at the Wayback Machine, U.S. Department of Justice, Middle District of Pennsylvania.
- Kelly, Dan,Two Berks Constables, District Judge's Secretary Charged in Billing Taxpayers in No-work Scheme, Reading Eagle, September 23, 2008.
- Herman, Holly (December 9, 2009). "Reading constable found guilty of 2 counts in false-billing case". readingeagle.com. Reading Eagle Company. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
- Herman, Holly (November 30, 2011). "Ex-constable gets jail for plotting robbery". readingeagle.com. Reading Eagle Company. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
- Henshaw, Steven (February 18, 2012). "State constable from Birdsboro arrested on sex charges". readingeagle.com. Reading Eagle Company. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
- CBS3 Philadelphia,Constable Loses Power After Ticket Flap Archived 2009-01-08 at the Wayback Machine, October 18, 2007.
- KYW 1060.com, Montco DA Scorns Actions of 'Arrogant' Former Constable
- Action News Philadelphia,Montgomery County Constable Faces Charges, Posted April 29, 2008.
- Scolforo, Mark, Constable Outside Philadelphia Removed by Judge Archived 2012-03-08 at the Wayback Machine, Associated Press, January 9, 2009.
- Scolforo, Mark,Pa. constables: Keystone cops in need of reform?, Associated Press, July 30, 2008.
- Wirs v. Davis, Civil Action No. 3:cv-01-2150, U.S.District Court for Middle District of Pennsylvania.
- Miller, Matt (April 14, 2011). "Constable Jack Garner convicted of official oppression, impersonating a police officer". pennlive.com. PA Media Group. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
- Schalk, Kiernan (October 25, 2011). "Constable sentenced to at least 10 days in jail". lewistownsentinel.com. Lewistown Sentinel. Archived from the original on October 28, 2011. Retrieved November 8, 2017.
- Scolforo, Mark, Pa. Courts Consider Statewide Constable Standards, Associated Press, December 30, 2008.