The recent scandal behind Pen State’s former football coach, Jerry Sandusky, receiving 40 criminal counts of sexual molestation and the subsequent firing of his colleague, Joe Paterno, by the university’s Board of Trustees, has stirred legislatures to push for policy reform surrounding sexual crimes and child abuse.
After the Sandusky arrest, criticism quickly turned to Joe Paterno for failing to disclose to local authorities that he knew about the reported child abuse by Sandusky. Instead, Paterno reportedly told persons in charge of the institution. While people may continue to scrutinize his choice of disclosure, Paterno has taken the steps to protect his legal rights by seeking counsel of a Pennsylvania sex crime defense attorney, even though he has not been charged with a crime. Former Penn State senior executive Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley, were both formally charged with failing to report alleged abuse and lying to the grand jury. All three men say they are innocent.
According to Pennsylvania law, the general rule relating to persons required to report suspected child abuse, in the course of their employment, occupation or practice of their profession, shall report or cause a report to be made to the Department of Public Welfare when they have reasonable cause to suspect on the basis of their professional or other training or experience, that a child coming before them in their professional or official capacity is a victim of child abuse. The law continues to specify specific requirements for staff members of public or private agencies, institutions and facilities.
Employees who are staff members of a medical or other public or private institution, school, facility or agency, and who, in the course of their employment, occupation or practice of their profession, come into contact with children shall immediately notify the person in charge of the institution, school, facility or agency or the designated agent of the person in charge when they have reasonable cause to suspect on the basis of their professional or other training or experience, that a child coming before them in their professional or official capacity is a victim of child abuse. Upon notification by the employee, the person in charge or the designated agent shall assume the responsibility and have the legal obligation to report or cause a report to be made.
Each state has separate rules concerning child abuse and sexual misconduct with a minor. Currently Pennsylvania’s Right-To-Know Law requires Pen State and other state funded universities to report only certain financial aspects in order to receive funding by the state. Laws surrounding the accusations against the former Pen State employees have created many people to question the law’s functionality and the Sandusky case has created activists lobbying for a more uniformed law among the states, for public or private institution employees to take more responsibility for their actions, or lack thereof.
Pennsylvania lawmaker State Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia) introduced House Bill 1990, that would change state law so that people who witness child abuse are required to report the details to law enforcement, rather than a supervisor. Also, State Rep. Eugene DePasquale (D-York) introduced a second piece of legislation that would remove Right-To-Know Law public record exemptions Penn State and other state-related universities have used to conceal their spending behaviors.
So, what does it mean if these laws go into effect? Perhaps, more harsh punishments for those who suspect sexual crimes and child abuse but not reporting immediately to authorities, even at public and private institutions. Any criminal accusation has the potential to cause reputational damage and must be made with extreme caution. With high profile clients such as the ones in the Sandusky case, defamatory remarks without probable cause can invite counter suits and irreversible damage to a person’s career, family and lifestyle. New laws should be made on logical realizations aimed to entice the truth and with precaution to rights of both the vicims and those accused of committing the crime.
Child abuse and sexual crimes are serious offenses. If you have been accused of a sex crime in Pennsylvania, your best defense is an early one. Just as Paterno retained an attorney due to the threat and/or anticipation of a criminal charge, it’s important to take a proactive approach when creating a defense that will protect your rights. Even if you have not been formally charged but are anticipating an arrest in West Chester or one the the surrounding areas, a knowledgeable West Chester criminal defense attorney can help protect your rights and reputation. Call Skinner Law Firm if you would like to discuss your case during a free detailed consultation and are in West Chester, PA or surrounding areas.