Journalists are among those who’ve filed a new challenge of a Pennsylvania law that allows crime victims and their families to sue offenders who engage in activities that add to their “mental anguish.”
Philadelphia City Paper reporter Daniel Denvir said he joined the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania because the law violates his free speech rights as a journalist.
“It could stop criminal offenders from speaking to me and I need those people as sources for stories about the criminal justice issues I report on: wrongful convictions, correctional officer abuse, unjust sentencing,” he said.
Denvir argued the law, known as the “Revictimization Relief Act,” could also allow a judge to block him from publishing stories based on interviews with criminal offenders.
Plaintiffs also include freelance journalist Christopher Moraff, the Philadelphia City Paper, Prison Legal News, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, inmate advocacy groups and four former state prisoners.
“The reason why we brought this case on behalf of journalists and other folks who spend time speaking with offenders is to show how broad the law will reach,” said ACLU staff attorney Sara Rose.
Rose said the law has not yet been enforced, but argues it has a “chilling effect” on all inmates and those who work with them.
This is the second lawsuit aimed at striking down the law, signed by Gov. Tom Corbett after convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal gave a taped undergraduate commencement speech from behind bars. Attorneys for Abu-Jamal also say it violates the right to free speech.
Abu-Jamal is serving a life sentence for the murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.
State Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, sponsored the original legislation and called the notion that it was intended to silence journalists “egregious.”
“The media and the ACLU need to look at this from a victim’s perspective,” he said.
“Do we want Jerry Sandusky doing live interviews for a half an hour long, revictimizing all the victims in the Penn State case?”
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and state Attorney General Kathleen Kane are named as defendants in the suit because of their authority to enforce the law, Rose said.
Williams’ office did not return a call for comment. A spokesman for Kane says her office “will respond to the lawsuit in due course.”