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PCAR, Judge develop first benchbook to guide lower court judges in sex crime cases

 HARRISBURG, PA—The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Jack Panella will distribute the nation’s first Sexual Violence Benchbook designed specifically for lower court judges to more than 540 magisterial district judges in March.

The first benchbook was given to President Judge Todd Hoover as part of a news conference and presentation March 10 at Dauphin County courthouse. The book—which Panella authored with collaboration from PCAR and a benchbook advisory council—offers lower court judges a guide to handling crimes of sexual violence and addresses the steps of sex offense cases. It includes detailed information regarding preliminary arraignments and hearings, standards of proof and the setting of bail and bail conditions to ensure the safety of victims and witnesses.

“The benchbook provides special emphasis to the physical and psychological effects of a sexual assault on a victim and invaluable information regarding victim’s rights and programs designed to assist in sexual abuse,” PCAR Chief Executive Officer Delilah Rumburg said. It is vital information for all magisterial district judges—including those that may not have a background in sexual abuse cases.

"The benchbook does not try to tell the judge how to rule, but rather attempts to provide information to help the judges reach informed and prompt decisions when relevant cases arise" Panella said. "It is a comprehensive resource on laws and cases which judges can consult right from the bench. It will help these sensitive cases run more smoothly."  

The book has been reviewed by an advisory committee which included Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices J. Michael Eakin, Seamus P. McCaffery and Debra Todd, and Superior Court President Judge Correale F. Stevens and Judge John L. Musmanno.                

The publication is available to the public at PCAR's website and also will be available later in March on the website of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Court,                

PCAR is the oldest and largest state anti-sexual violence coalition in the U.S. The organization represents 50 sexual assault centers that serve the state’s 67 counties.