State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff has gotten a bill through the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that would stop plea deals that promise wiped criminal records for some charged with child sex crimes.
The program is called accelerated rehabilitative disposition. ARD is a program that is used for first-time offenders to give them a second chance. Complete the program and your record is expunged, but reoffend and the charges come back into play. In Centre County, it is frequently used for driving under the influence charges.
“While the program serves a valuable rehabilitative purpose for other offenses, someone charged with the rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse or aggravated indecent assault of a child should never be offered ARD,” Benninghoff said in a statement. “My bill would make the law clear; criminals who choose to sexually assault children will never avoid prosecution.”
But when former Harris Township supervisor and ex-Boal Mansion CEO Christopher Lee was charged with indecent assault involving two boys in 2005, ARD was the deal he cut in 2006 with then-Centre County district attorney Michael Madeira.
He completed his program, had his record sealed and stayed busy in the community, even running against Benninghoff for the legislature in 2012. But just two years later, he was arrested again. Lee was convicted of new federal child pornography and related charges in 2016. He is now serving an 18-year sentence.
In 2015, Benninghoff introduced his bill that would ban cases like Lee’s from such deals. It went through committee and through the House, but died without coming out of Senate committees.
Now it’s headed back there. The new version, House Bill 594, received unanimous bipartisan support from the state representatives.
State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman’s office could not say Tuesday how long before the bill could be voted on by his fellow legislators.
“We are taking a looking at the measure and any decision will come after that review is finished,” spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said.