ACLU-PA Position: Opposes
Known as “Cody’s Law,” HB 185 (PN 153) would classify any attempt to cause or intentionally or knowingly cause bodily injury to an individual with a physical disability or intellectual disability as an aggravated assault, graded as a felony of the second degree.
HB 185 would eliminate the requirement to cause or attempt to cause “serious bodily injury” and allow prosecutors to charge an assault as aggravated whenever a simple assault is committed against a person with a physical or intellectual disability. In other words, it treats a simple assault as aggravated, increasing the penalties from up to 2 years in prison for a second-degree misdemeanor to up to 10 years for a second-degree felony.
Furthermore, HB 185 lacks a knowledge requirement — a defendant need not have any specific knowledge of the victim’s intellectual or physical disability. But due process mandates that a defendant have adequate notice that his/her actions have criminal consequences. Many disabilities are not apparent simply by looking at an individual, and it is unfair — if not unconstitutional — to enhance the grading of an offense based essentially on the invisible characteristics of the victim. Given that these two criteria are the basis upon which an otherwise misdemeanor assault would be charged as a felony and would impose an additional 8 years in prison, knowledge of a person’s disability should be required for a felony conviction under this provision.