Pennsylvania law was the catalyst for a ground-breaking U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the standard of review for abortion cases was fundamentally altered. Pennsylvania’s open-records law and criminal sentencing guidelines have also undergone review. Although the former has been improved by recent measures, the latter remains a troublesome issue for Pennsylvanians and human rights advocates worldwide.
In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the U.S. Supreme Court considered a Pennsylvania law that placed a number of restrictions on a women’s ability to obtain abortions. The Court upheld abortion as constitutional, under the right to privacy found within the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The Court rejected the trimester formula set forth in Roe v. Wade, and held that a State may ban abortion at the point when the State’s interest in the fetus’ life outweighs the woman’s right to abortion, except when abortion is medically necessary for the life or health of the woman.
The Court also replaced Roe’s strict scrutiny standard of review with the less stringent “undue burden” standard. Using this new standard, the Court struck down the provision of the Pennsylvania law requiring women to give notice to their spouse before obtaining an abortion, as it could aggravate circumstances of spousal abuse and give too much control to husbands. The Court, however, upheld the law’s 24-hour waiting period, parental notification, and informed consent provisions.
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Pennsylvania also garnered wide attention for its open records law, which was known as one of the worst in the nation. Under the old law, citizens had to prove they needed information in order to gain access to records. The new law presumes all records to be open unless they are included specifically listed as exceptions. Additionally, the new law requires the government to show why a record must remain private, enforces shorter record request times, and imposes harsher fines on agencies which fail to meet the law’s requirements.
Pennsylvania’s criminal law has come under fire recently, as the state currently houses the largest number of teenage inmates serving life in prison without parole in the country. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, there are 444 teens currently serving life without parole in the state’s prisons, or about one fifth of the country’s total. One reason for this phenomenon is that Pennsylvania law mandates that everyone charged with homicide must be tried as an adult; furthermore, first and second-degree murder carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole under the exclusion rule. Additionally, minors, who often commit crimes in groups, are frequently convicted for felony murder, under which everyone who participated in a felony is responsible for any murder resulting from the commission of that crime.
According to an American Bar Association report, there are currently 46,065 lawyers with active licenses to practice law in Pennsylvania, many of them elected to or lobbying in the Pennsylvania State House. It may seem daunting to find the best lawyer for your case when there are so many to choose from. However, you can narrow the choices by researching lawyers’ fee structures, educational backgrounds, and specialties for free by joining LegalMatch, a free lawyer referral service.