Pennsylvania’s constables are being paid on varying timetables that sometimes leave them without payment for months or years after they’ve performed services for local courts, according to a new survey conducted by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.
Constables are law-enforcement or peace officers who provide a variety of services to help magisterial district justices locate defendants, bring them to court to face their charges and pay fines or fees assessed by the judge.
Under state law, constables are to be paid for their services within 15 to 30 days, depending on the type of case they are handling. Constables are technically paid from the fines and penalties collected from the defendants they bring to court.
A recent survey of 30 magisterial district judges (MDJs) in 13 counties found that, although 83 percent of MDJs reported using constables very often, only 37 percent reported paying them on the schedule outlined by state law. At least 20 percent of MDJs reported that they withhold payment until defendants have begun paying their court fines and fees, a practice that can lead to constables waiting months – sometimes years – to be paid.
“If the way the current law is written is not working, then the General Assembly should consider whether it’s time to revise that law, including a method for the reporting of fees,” DePasquale said.
The Department of the Auditor General conducted its survey in November 2020 via an online survey-hosting platform. The 10-question survey was sent to MDJs in 13 counties: Beaver, Berks, Cambria, Centre, Crawford, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Montgomery and Westmoreland. Some of the survey questions and results follow:
How often do you use services provided by a Constable?
- 83%: Very often
- 13%: Somewhat often
- 3%: Rarely
- 0%: Never
For what reason do you typically use services of a Constable? Please select all that apply.
- 32%: Civil cases
- 11%: Criminal cases
- 32%: Landlord-tenant cases
- 10%: Transportation of non-incarcerated defendants
- 12%: Other
When do you make payments to Constables for their services? Please select all that apply.
- 10%: Immediately
- 22%: Within 15 days when used in civil cases
- 15%: Within 30 days when used in criminal cases
- 10%: 15 days after close of the month
- 20%: Based on payment plan with defendants and contingent on pro-rated share of defendants’ payment of fines and costs
- 22%: Other