Pennsylvania Supreme Court petitioned on ‘predator catcher’ issue | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

LUZERNE COUNTY, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s courts might just catch up with its self-styled predator catchers.

The lawyers who represent those caught in online child sex stings orchestrated by citizens — not by the police — want state Supreme Court to use its “King’s Bench” powers and decide the legality of presenting evidence collected by those they call vigilantes.

Should the court agree hear the case,  their ruling will reverberate through the state and could have an impact on more than a dozen people the attorneys say are criminally charged in Luzerne County. Others already have pled guilty or have served jail time. “King’s Bench” petitions skip the appellate courts and go straight to the state Supreme Court.

Criminal cases involving evidence brought to police by a predator catcher have been allowed to proceed in Luzerne County, though prosecutors elsewhere have been wary.

“Our office remains confident in the precedent set in Luzerne County by our Trial Court in allowing us to pursue charges against child predators,” Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce said. “It is our position that a failed attempt to contact a minor for sex is criminal regardless of the fact that the perpetrator was talking to a parent, guardian, or other adult in lieu of a child. I greatly look forward to the opportunity to argue our case to our Supreme Court.”

One of those local predator catchers is Musa Harris, better known as, “The Luzerne County Predator Catcher.” By his count, he’s exposed more than 620 people since 2020 by posing as a child online and agreeing to meet with grown men in person for the purpose of sex. 

Once he arrives, he goes live to his social media pages.

In several cases, he’s provided the messages he exchanged with suspects to the police and. Sometimes, they move forward with prosecution where Harris is a “confidential witness.”

“I have kids,” Harris said. “And I want kids to be safe out here and to actually be kids and not have to worry about some grown person grooming them.”

Pittston Attorney William Watt, who represents a man criminally charged after a sting by Harris, is one of the attorneys who filed the “King’s Bench” petition. He said there is confusion in the justice system because appellate courts have issued no guidance regarding contradictory lower court rulings.

For example, a ruling last summer in Clearfield County quashed a similar case because the criminal statute requires someone to communicate with an actual minor or a law enforcement posing as a minor — not a vigilante.

A bill introduced in the state legislature after that ruling seeks to broaden the language, but it has not moved out of the House judiciary committee.

To Watts, that’s a signal that lawmakers know these actions are not legal.

 “We don’t live in a lawless society” Watt said. “We don’t live in a society where your neighbor or your friend can set you up to steal something and then call the cops. We don’t live in a society where vigilantes can start drug operations and sell you drugs and call the police on you. It’s just not the type of society that we should want to live in. We have trained law enforcement that are educated that know what they’re doing that know how to obtain evidence the correct way, so it’s not tampered with, or it’s not subject to attack by criminal defense lawyers. We should all want that.”

Regardless of which direction the high court goes, one thing seems certain. Harris has no plans to hang up his camera.

“People are more scared of getting caught by me than getting caught by the police,” Harris said. “They’d rather be locked up than (have) me exposing them.”

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