Wednesdays ruling from York County President Judge Stephen Linebaugh could technically set precedent in cases statewide, but it would be difficult to apply, said Michael Dimino, an associate professor of election law at Widener Law School.
The decision hinges on two important questions, Dimino said. The first is whether the court should defer to the legislative classification of a crime — felony or otherwise. In that matter, Linebaugh concludes, rightly in Dimino’s opinion, that the answer is no.
Just because the legislature determines a crime to be serious, doesn’t resolve the matter for Constitutional purposes, Dimino said. “If there was some big tough on crime movement and they made every crime on the books a felony, not every crime would be an infamous one,” he said.
The second question is whether a drug offense should constitute an infamous crime. Linebaugh concludes that Helfrich’s crime — under the specific circumstances that it was committed — does not. But such a narrow ruling is vulnerable, Dimino said.
“I don’t know that it’s wrong,” he said. “I think that a higher court should take a look at it, and that’s going to be difficult.”
Because it is so specific to Helfrich, Linebaugh’s decision creates no rule to govern future cases, Dimino said. That disserves the public, he said.
“If you – if any court — makes a rule (about) what it means by infamous crimes, they should make some kind of rule that can be administered by people, whether its people trying to run for office, people deciding who to vote for, people deciding to bring these kinds of actions (or) judges who are supposed to enforce them.”