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Non-profit seeks to apply drug law to prior offenses

Earlier this year, legislation went into effect that removed driver’s license suspensions for controlled substance offenses.

But the law only removed license suspensions for future convictions, leaving any current license suspensions untouched.

A legal non-profit is leading the charge to have that legislation retroactively applied.

According to Washington, D.C.-based Equal Justice Under Law, some individuals have extensions that will run to 2026.

They have also led the charge in writing to Gov. Tom Wolf and PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards. Over 40 entities have signed on to that letter, including Allegheny County’s District Attorney and top Public Defender, as well as Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and representatives with Uber and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The organization says that “tens of thousands of individuals are still under license suspension and will be for years to come” and argued that because the legislature didn’t prohibit retroactive enforcement that Wolf via executive action can act to apply the law retroactively.

And Warren County’s top public defender highlighted the challenge that creates for his clients.

“It is hard enough to put your life back on track after a criminal conviction,” Warren County Chief Public Defender John Parroccini said, “but even harder if you can’t drive.”

According to information on the law from the House of Representatives, charges regarding the “possession, sale, delivery, offering for sale, holding or sale or giving away of any controlled substance” will now no longer carry license suspensions, according to Act 95 of 2018.

Additional charges under this law that have had the suspension remove include, in general, underage drinking offenses, the purchase or tobacco by a minor an carrying a false ID when under 21.

According to the Governor’s office, the law that Act 95 amended was one of many Congress enacted to punish drug crimes in the early 1990s when the War on Drugs sought to significantly reduce drug crimes. Congress had threatened states with reduced federal highway funding if they didn’t enact the automatic driver’s licenses suspensions for drug crimes.

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