2009-04-16 / Local & State

Federal Judge Upholds 'Stay Out' Order For Convict

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A federal judge has upheld a Pennsylvania court ruling that county judges can order a convicted criminal to stay out of a municipality after serving a prison sentence - as long as the sentence is less than two years.

For longer terms, however, the judge said only the state Board of Probation and Parole has that authority.

The ruling came in the case of Robert E. Chambers II, 32, formerly of Arnold and New Kensington, who was convicted in cocaine cases in 2005 and 2006. He was sentenced to a combined 10 to 20 years in state prison, and Westmoreland County Judge Rita D. Hathaway also ordered him to stay out of Arnold, New Kensington and Lower Burrell after his release.

Chambers, who is incarcerated in the state prison in Albion, Erie County, filed unsuccessful appeals in state court and then took his case to federal court. Last month, Pittsburgh federal Judge Robert C. Mitchell ruled against him on several issues, such as the length of his sentence.

On the "stay out'' order, Mitchell ruled that a county judge in the commonwealth can issue such an order when someone is sentenced to less than two years in jail. If the sentence is for more than two years, however, he said such an order "rests exclusively within the province of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole and not the trial court.''

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said such orders are often sought to protect citizens, especially in sex abuse cases.

Probation and Parole Department spokesman Leo Dunn said the board would look at such an order and consider the offender's current status.

"Maybe the recommendation will be followed, particularly if it's a matter of public safety,'' he said. "But after 10 years, this may no longer apply.''

Dunn said that as a result of the ruling, a county judge can make a recommendation, but it is advisory only. But the board may issue is own stay out order after hearing from the victim, he said.

"I've seen some orders for an offender to stay out of up to three counties,'' he said.

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