People are often surprised when I tell them that there is more crime per square foot at America’s Wal-Marts than in the worst inner-city ghettos. Of course, the reason for the high crime rate at Wal-Mart is due to retail thefts, credit card/ access device fraud, bad checks, forgery and theft by deception in the form of fraudulent returns. While these are the usual crimes one would expect at a mega-retailer, one does not expect to encounter a semen-throwing mad man!
On July 9, 2013, police allege that 22 year old Frank Short, Jr., threw a “gob of semen” onto the leg of a 20 year old woman, as she was texting in an aisle of Wal-Mart in New Castle, Delaware. After initially claiming that he had sneezed and accidentally hit the victim with mucus, Short admitted to police that he thought the victim was “hot,” and that he “got a thrill” from throwing his semen on her. Short is charged with offensive touching with bodily fluid, harassment, disorderly conduct and open lewdness.
So what would happen if Short had perpetrated his crime in Pennsylvania? Pennsylvania has a crime known as “aggravated harassment by prisoner,” which makes it a third degree felony for a state or county prison inmate to throw spit, or expel bodily fluids like blood, saliva, urine, feces or seminal fluid at another person, but strangely enough, this crime does not apply to people, who are not prisoners. This law was enacted because mentally ill prisoners have been known to engage in such anti-social behavior.
The obvious question is why the “aggravated harassment by prisoner” law restricted only to prison inmates. What was the Pennsylvania General Assembly thinking when they enacted a law, which protects only corrections officers from semen and feces hurling nutjobs? Mr. Short clearly illustrates the fact that not everyone sick enough to throw potentially disease-carrying bodily fluids at other people is already in prison. Some of these people are “out in the wild.” If anything, I think the 20 year old girl who had a gob of semen thrown on her would be more traumatized that the average corrections officer, who is more used to dealing with sociopaths.
Currently, police could charge open lewdness, disorderly conduct, indecent assault and harassment if Mr. Short engaged in such behavior in Pennsylvania, all of which are either summary offenses or misdemeanors. None of these offenses require Megan’s Law registration. I believe the simple solution is to expand the crime of aggravated harassment to include everyone who engages in such behavior, not just prisoners. One suggestion I would make, however, is that the penalties for hurling things like semen and feces should be more severe than the penalty for spitting on someone. The rationale for this distinction should be fairly obvious.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense lawyer in State College, Pennsylvania. He limits his practice to criminal law matters.