Pennsylvania House Bill No. 2533 (introduced Oct. 3 by House members Vereb, Marsico, Caltagirone, Turzai, Stephens, Kauffman, M.K. Keller, Masser, Millard, O’Neill, Thomas, Toepel, Barrar, and Corbin) provides,
(a) Action.–In addition to any other right of action and any other remedy provided by law, a victim of a personal injury crime may bring a civil action against an offender in any court of competent jurisdiction to obtain injunctive and other appropriate relief, including reasonable attorney fees and other costs associated with the litigation, for conduct which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.
(b) Redress on behalf of victim.–The district attorney of the county in which a personal injury crime took place or the Attorney General, after consulting with the district attorney, may institute a civil action against an offender for injunctive or other appropriate relief for conduct which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.
(c) Injunctive relief.–Upon a showing of cause for the issuance of injunctive relief, a court may issue special, preliminary, permanent or any other injunctive relief as may be appropriate under this section.
(d) Definition.–As used in this section, the term “conduct which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim” includes conduct which causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.
The bill was prompted by a graduation speech by convicted murderer Mumia Abu-Jamal, and pretty clearly aims at speech: “Nobody has the right to continually taunt the victims of their violent crimes in the public square,” [Gov. Tom Corbett] said Monday. (Abu-Jamal apparently “did not address the killing of Officer Faulkner in his recorded remarks,” according to a Fox News account.)
It’s also clearly unconstitutional. The government can’t enjoin speech, or even authorize civil liability for speech, just because it is said by a convicted criminal (which is what “offender” presumably means here), or because it “perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime” by “caus[ing] a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.” If it’s a threat, it can be punished. If it’s a face-to-face insult likely to cause a fight, it can be punished. If it’s libel, it can be punished. But speech can’t be enjoined, or subjected to liability, simply because it causes “mental anguish,” for instance because the criminal is saying bad things about the victim or the victim’s family, or is defending his legal or moral innocence, or getting acclaim or recognition that we think he shouldn’t be getting.
Note that prison inmates, and even convicts who are out on probation or parole, can indeed be subjected to special speech restrictions, and can be administratively disciplined (or have their probation or parole revoked) for their speech. But the law goes beyond that, both in the nature of the remedy (an injunction and damages, and not just administrative prison remedies) and in its application to all offenders, whether or not they are in prison.
Thanks to Robert Dittmer for the pointer.