Pennsylvania State Constables

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A Pennsylvania State Constable is an elected office held in all Pennsylvania townships and boroughs except for Philadelphia, where it was abolished in the 1970s.[1] Pennsylvania Constables are sworn law enforcement officers and 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 committed in their presence, 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 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.[2]

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 courts system, primarily serving the Minor Judiciary, but they 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."[3]

In Pennsylvania, constables are defined as peace officers, with certain police powers (such as arrest authority on warrants and crimes committed in their presence)..[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.

The role of Pennsylvania State Constable is that of a professional law enforcement officer charged with a multitude of duties and responsibilities, including providing courtroom security for the Magisterial District Courts, transporting prisoners, locating and apprehending fugitives, serving warrants, legal papers, and notices, collection of taxes, arrest offenders against forest laws, administering eviction, repossession and sale of real and personal property.

Constables are also charged by Pennsylvania statute with maintaining order at election polls and ensuring that no qualified elector is obstructed from voting. Constables are the only peace officers permitted at the polls on Election Day. In fact, this duty is mandated upon constables.

In addition to any other powers granted under the law, a constable of a borough shall, without warrant and upon the view, arrest and commit for hearing any person who:

1. Is guilty of a breach of the peace, vagrancy, riotous or disorderly conduct or drunkenness.

2. May be engaged in the commission of any unlawful act tending to imperil the personal security or endanger the property of the citizens.

3. Violates any ordinance of the borough for which a fine or penalty is imposed.

Constables belong to the executive branch of government. As such, they are answerable to the governor of Pennsylvania.

Constable’s are the oldest law enforcement position in the world.

In Pennsylvania, Constable’s are considered to be a “Peace Officer” because of their Constitutional origin, and as elected officials, they are independent of other and authority to perform his duties according to the statute, in the interest of justice.

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.[5] Failure to protect the polls, or provide for their protection through appointed deputies, is punishable by fine and/or jail time.[6] Constables are paid a fixed fee for performing this duty.[7]

Working for the Courts[edit]

Constables may serve the court, but are not required to. When serving the judiciary, constables may serve any judicial process, which includes arrest warrants from summary to felony, conduct levies, perform evictions, and serve PFA orders. These services are regulated by Act 49 of 2009 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 many Pennsylvania counties, Constables provide courtroom security and transport prisoners. For example, Bucks, Chester and Berks Counties use constables for all prisoner transports and courtroom security. This is much more cost effective then the use of sheriffs, and allows police officers to return to the street quicker then if they transported their own prisoners. Many counties have switched to this option.

Training[edit]

Presently, Constables are required to complete Act 49 certification and training before performing any court duties. Basic 'Act 49 training is provided by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD). The initial Basic Training 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, and topics are updated yearly as required.

An additional (although optional) firearms certification course is also conducted by the PCCD, providing for 40 hours of intensive classroom and range instruction. Upon completing a course of fire (comparable to that of municipal and state police), and after passing with at least a 75%, constables then receive firearms certification.

Completing both courses provides for 120 hours total of initial training and education, or approximately 1/4 of the initial hours of municipal police. 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. At the completion of a six year term of office, a constable will have had 320 hours of PCCD instruction and training.

Discipline and Removal[edit]

A Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas judge may remove a constable for misfeasance, malfeasance, or acts of oppression.[8] Malfeasance is defined as a breach of a positive statutory duty or of performing a discretionary act with an improper or corrupt motive.[3] 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]

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.[9]

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.[10]

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.[11]

A constable may appoint "Election Day" deputy constables to monitor polling places in their elected districts. These constables serve as protectors of the peace on the selected days only.[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 statewide reform had failed on at least two prior occasions.[12][13][14][15]

Some of the incidents highlighted by the press include:

  • 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.[13]
  • 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.[21]

List of Removed or Disciplined Constables[edit]

  • 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.[22][23]
  • 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.[24]
  • 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.[24]
  • 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. no title 2
  • 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.no title
  • 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. no title
  • 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.[25] In February 2009, Sokoloff filed to run for constable in Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County.[26] 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.[citation needed]
  • 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.[27] 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.[28]
  • 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.[29] However, the Dauphin County District Attorney later admitted Wirs was factually innocent of all charges.[30]
  • 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.[31]
  • 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.[32]

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 statewide regulations, including issuing a statewide constable handbook.[33] 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.[33]

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.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 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.". Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  2. ^ 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)
  3. ^ a b c In Re: Act 144 of 1990, Pennsylvania Supreme Court (1994).
  4. ^ In re: Appointment of Hunter, 782 A.2d 610 (Pa. Commw. 2001)
  5. ^ "Pennsylvania Statutes Title 25 P.S. Elections & Electoral Districts § 3047. Peace officers;  no police officer to be within one hundred feet of polling place, exceptions;  presence of soldiers prohibited". FindLaw. Retrieved November 8, 2016. No police officer in commission, whether in uniform or in citizen's clothes, shall be within one hundred feet of a polling place during the conduct of any primary or election, unless in the exercise of his privilege of voting, or for the purpose of serving warrants, or unless called upon to preserve the peace, as provided by this act[...] 
  6. ^ "Pennsylvania Statutes Title 25 P.S. Elections & Electoral Districts § 3511. Peace officers;  failure to render assistance;  hindering or delaying county board members and others". FindLaw. Retrieved November 8, 2016. Any[...] constable, deputy constable, police or other peace officer, who shall fail upon demand of any member of a county board of elections, judge or inspector of election, or overseer to render such aid and assistance to him as he shall request in the maintenance of peace and in the making of arrests, as herein provided, or who shall wilfully hinder or delay or attempt to hinder or delay any member of a county board, judge or inspector of election, or overseer in the performance of any duty under this act, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be sentenced to pay a fine not exceeding five hundred ($500) dollars, or to undergo an imprisonment of not less than three (3) months nor more than two (2) years, or both, in the discretion of the court. 
  7. ^ "Pennsylvania Statutes Title 25 P.S. Elections & Electoral Districts § 92. Compensation of judges, inspectors, and clerks in boroughs". FindLaw. Retrieved November 8, 2016. The town council of every borough hereafter incorporated, shall from time to time fix the salaries of the high constable, town clerk, treasurer, street commissioner and such other officers as they may appoint[...] 
  8. ^ 13 Pennsylvania Statutes § 31
  9. ^ "Ethics". Ethics.state.pa.us. Retrieved 2010-03-30. 
  10. ^ 13 Pennsylvania Statutes § 21
  11. ^ Preno Petition, 77 Pa. D & C 193 (1951).
  12. ^ Scolforo, Mark, Chief Justice: Constable System a Medieval Remnant, Associated Press, July 31, 2008. Archived February 27, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ a b Scolforo, Mark, Constable Misconduct in Pa. Sparks Calls for Reform, Associated Press, July 30, 2008
  14. ^ Scolforo, Mark, Barriers Exist to Pa. Constable System Reforms, Associated Press, July 29, 2008.
  15. ^ Scolforo, Mark, Prisoner Excapes a Problem for Pennsylvania Constables, Associated Press, July 30, 2008
  16. ^ Pennlive, Two 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. ^ Breaking
  22. ^ Hoover, Mike, Tax Evading Constable Gets 13-Month Jail Sentence, The Evening Sun, May 24, 2008.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ a b Kelly, Dan,Two Berks Constables, District Judge's Secretary Charged in Billing Taxpayers in No-work Scheme, Reading Eagle, September 23, 2008.
  25. ^ CBS3 Philadelphia,Constable Loses Power After Ticket Flap, October 18, 2007.
  26. ^ KYW 1060.com, Montco DA Scorns Actions of 'Arrogant' Former Constable
  27. ^ Action News Philadelphia,Montgomery County Constable Faces Charges, Posted April 29, 2008.
  28. ^ Scolforo, Mark, Constable Outside Philadelphia Removed by Judge, Associated Press, January 9, 2009.
  29. ^ Scolforo, Mark,Constable Misconduct in Pa. Sparks Calls for Reform, Associated Press, July 30, 2008.
  30. ^ Wirs v Davis 3cv01-2150 2002.
  31. ^ Constable Jack Garner Convicted
  32. ^ Constable Sentenced...
  33. ^ a b Scolforo, Mark, Pa. Courts Consider Statewide Constable Standards, Associated Press, December 30, 2008.

External links[edit]