Governor signing law in response to Abu-Jamal talk

AP News
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Posted: Oct 21, 2014 11:37 AM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Spurred by outcry over a recent commencement speech by a man convicted of killing a police officer, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is scheduled to sign a bill Tuesday designed to prevent people convicted of crimes from causing their victims additional "mental anguish."

The measure won approval in the state legislature last week after Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted in the 1981 shooting death of a Philadelphia police officer, delivered a pre-recorded commencement address to graduates of Goddard College in Vermont earlier this month.

"Nobody has the right to continually taunt the victims of their violent crimes," Corbett said days after the speech.

Under the bill, prosecutors or victims of a personal injury crime would be able to file a lawsuit and seek an injunction or other court-ordered relief when an offender's conduct "perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime."

That conduct, the bill says, includes causing "a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish."

Critics have called the measure vague, overbroad and a violation of constitutionally protected free speech.

Reggie Shuford, the executive director of the state's American Civil Liberties Union chapter, said the bill leaves "unclear what behavior is prohibited."

"Essentially, any action by an inmate or former offender that could cause 'mental anguish' could be banned by a judge," Shuford said in a statement. "That can't pass constitutional muster under the First Amendment."

Abu-Jamal is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole in the death of Officer Daniel Faulkner, who had pulled over his brother in an overnight traffic stop.

Prosecutors dropped a bid to reinstate the former radio reporter and Black Panther's death sentence three years ago.

Corbett, a Republican former attorney general facing a tough re-election fight, planned to sign the bill at the Center City intersection where Faulkner was killed. The officer's widow, Maureen, was expected to join him.

Abu-Jamal attended tiny Goddard in Plainfield, Vermont, briefly in the 1970s and studied remotely through the institution from death row. He didn't mention Faulkner or the shooting in his taped speech to 21 graduates.

In the past, Abu-Jamal has portrayed himself as a victim of a racist justice system, drawing international support.