Case: In re: the Petition of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, Brian McHale, Jeremy Hunsicker, Christopher Aubry, Michael Foundos, and Frederick Leonard, on behalf of all similarly situated individuals

20-00070 | Pennsylvania state trial court

Filed Date: March 30, 2020

Closed Date: April 3, 2020

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

COVID-19 Summary: The Pennsylvania Prison Society and incarcerated individuals filed a petition requesting that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court take immediate action to reduce the population of Pennsylvania county jails. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied the petition but ordered that the Pennsylvania judicial system take steps to reduce the population of incarcerated individuals and ensure that institutions adequately address COVID-19. On March 30, 2020, the Pennsylvania Prison Society and …

COVID-19 Summary: The Pennsylvania Prison Society and incarcerated individuals filed a petition requesting that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court take immediate action to reduce the population of Pennsylvania county jails. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied the petition but ordered that the Pennsylvania judicial system take steps to reduce the population of incarcerated individuals and ensure that institutions adequately address COVID-19.


On March 30, 2020, the Pennsylvania Prison Society and five incarcerated individuals, represented by the ACLU of Pennsylvania, filed an emergency petition with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Petitioners argued that under state law the Supreme Court had legal authority to reduce jail populations and that extraordinary measures in other states were indicative of the need for jail population reductions. Petitioners urged the Court to instruct all courts in the Commonwealth to immediately order county jails within their respective jurisdictions to release the following categories of people, subject to the objection provision outlined below:

a. Those who are within three months of, or beyond, their minimum sentence;

b. Those under a probation detainer (or serving a sentence) for a violation of probation or county parole where the violation does not arise out of the commission of a new felony offense;

c. Those eligible to periodically leave their correctional facilities, such as those eligible for work release or serving intermittent sentences (e.g., weekends);

d. Those detained pretrial solely due to an order imposing cash bail; and

e. Any incarcerated person at increased risk of severe COVID-19 complications and death as defined by the CDC, including those over the age of 45, and people with any of the following underlying medical conditions: blood disorders, chronic kidney or liver disease, compromised immune system, endocrine disorders (including diabetes), metabolic disorders, heart and lung disease, neurological and neurologic and neurodevelopmental conditions, and current or recent pregnancy.

Petitioners also requested that the Court take additional measures to reduce jail populations, including the cessation of setting cash bails, prioritizing hearings for in-custody defendants, and ensuring the availability of a venue for criminal proceedings. They also requested a special master to oversee compliance with the requests outlined above.

On April 3, 2020, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied the petition. 2020 WL 3116883. The court recognized the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, but denied the petition because the immediate release of certain persons failed to consider the potential danger of inmates to the general population and the diversity of situations. Even so, the court directed that the President Judges of each judicial district coordinate with county officials to ensure that the county correctional institutions were adequately addressing the threat of COVID-19 and applying the recommendations of public health officials. If the recommendations of those officials could not be followed, President Judges were ordered to work with county officials to identify persons for potential release or transfer to reduce the populations held in institutions. President Judges were also ordered to take steps to limit the introduction of new inmates. Chief Justice Saylor wrote a concurring opinion, stating that, the Governor should issue an Executive Order, as the authority to release prisoners on account of a disaster emergency rests with him. 2020 WL 3109546.

The deadline for reconsideration was on May 12; the case is closed.

Summary Authors

Cedar Hobbs (4/2/2020)

Averyn Lee (6/14/2020)


Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Deiderick, Brian (Pennsylvania)

Feinberg, Jonathan H. (Pennsylvania)

Freedman, John A. (District of Columbia)

Lin, Susan M. (Pennsylvania)

Messing, Paul (Pennsylvania)

Nelson-Major, Hayden (Pennsylvania)

Nyborg-Burch, Erika (Pennsylvania)

Rudovsky, David (Pennsylvania)

Shapiro, Samuel M (District of Columbia)

Szemanski, Ali (Pennsylvania)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Deiderick, Brian (Pennsylvania)

Feinberg, Jonathan H. (Pennsylvania)

Freedman, John A. (District of Columbia)

Lin, Susan M. (Pennsylvania)

Messing, Paul (Pennsylvania)

Nelson-Major, Hayden (Pennsylvania)

Nyborg-Burch, Erika (Pennsylvania)

Rudovsky, David (Pennsylvania)

Shapiro, Samuel M (District of Columbia)

Szemanski, Ali (Pennsylvania)

Taylor, Nyssa (Pennsylvania)

Walczak, Witod (Pennsylvania)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Daley, Michael P (Pennsylvania)

Eisenberg, Ronald (Pennsylvania)

Graziano, Jill Marie (Pennsylvania)

Holmes, Timothy A. (Pennsylvania)

Kiefer, Catherine Banner (Pennsylvania)

Neary, Keli Marie (Pennsylvania)

Perez, Theron (Pennsylvania)

Schwab, Gregory George (Pennsylvania)

Other Attorney(s)

Diggs, Khadija Tamu (Pennsylvania)

Pittinsky, David (Pennsylvania)

Withers, Scot Russel (Pennsylvania)

Expert/Monitor/Master

Amon, Joseph J PhD (New Jersey)

Golob, Jonathan Louis (Michigan)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Miscellaneous Docket Sheet

Pennsylvania state supreme court

April 3, 2021 Docket

Application for Extraordinary Relief Under the Court's King's Bench Jurisdiction

Pennsylvania state supreme court

March 30, 2020 Pleading / Motion / Brief

Order Denying Application for Extraordinary Relief

Pennsylvania state supreme court

228 A.3d 885

April 3, 2020 Order/Opinion

Resources

Title Description External URL

King's Bench Petition on County Jails during COVID-19

ACLU

The ACLU of Pennsylvania on behalf of the Pennsylvania Prison Society filed an emergency request asking the state Supreme Court to use its “King’s Bench” power to protect public health by ordering co… March 30, 2020 https://aclupa.org/en/cases/kings-bench-petition-county-jails-during-covid-19

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: Pennsylvania

Case Type(s):

Criminal Justice (Other)

Special Collection(s):

COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)

Key Dates

Filing Date: March 30, 2020

Closing Date: April 3, 2020

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Pennsylvania Prison Society

Plaintiff Type(s):

Non-profit NON-religious organization

Attorney Organizations:

ACLU Affiliates (any)

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Defendant Type(s):

Corrections

Jurisdiction-wide

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Special Case Type(s):

Appellate Court is initial court

Availably Documents:

Complaint (any)

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Mixed

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Issues

General:

Conditions of confinement

Sanitation / living conditions

Totality of conditions

Crowding:

Crowding / caseload

COVID-19:

CDC Guidance ordered implemented

Mitigation Denied

Mitigation Granted

Mitigation Requested

Population reduction/cap

Release Denied

Release-process created/modified

Release Requested

Social distancing ordered