Pa. Mandatory Minimum Sentences Under Challenge

“Mandatory minimum sentences for gun- and drug-related offenses are in limbo across Pennsylvania, delaying trials and causing confusion in hundreds of cases as courts grapple with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued last year.”

Read the full article on Philly.com.

What is this case about?

This is about mandatory minimum sentences, in light of a new Supreme Court case requiring all mandatory sentencing elements to be proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
In PA the sentencing code permits Mandatory/Minimums with a preponderance of the evidence at sentencing.

Example – firearm used in a drug dealing offense. If my Glock is in my nightstand, and my bundles are on top, the state can seek a 5 yr. mandatory for possessing the gun. Heretofore they were only required to prove it by a preponderance at sentencing, and not BRD at trial to the jury.

So even though the gun was not implicated in a crime, it’s mere presence invokes a Mandatory/Minimum?

It can, yes.

As an attorney, you would prefer the jury determine the relevance of evidence–weights, counts, etc.–, as opposed to the Judge?

I prefer the higher burden of proof if the Commonwealth/Government intends to impose a Draconian mandatory minimum sentence. Give me something more than just “tipping the scales of justice” to one side or the other.

Doesn’t Mandatory/Minimum Law often tie the hands of judges as well?

It does, but that’s not what Alleyne is about. I hate Mandatory/Minimums in general and would echo Sen. Greenleaf’s statements that they haven’t been proven to work and cost us dearly.  Alleyne is a good first step, but nothing short of eliminating mandatory minimum sentences entirely will restore sanity and confidence in our sentencing courts.

Mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenses are especially egregious. A first time offender who runs afoul of a drug warrior prosecutor could find themselves serving a mandatory prison sentence for selling 2 grams of cocaine. And a judge is powerless to do anything about it. That cannot be justice.

Does this bolster the argument against Mandatory/Minimums overall?

Alleyne is only one side of the argument– eliminating Mandatory/Minimums entirely is the other.  Alleyne says a mandatory cannot be imposed unless the predicate facts are proven beyond a reasonable doubt to either a judge or a jury.

So a  jury should have all the facts to consider?

In PA those predicate facts can heretofore be proven at sentencing, and by a preponderance of the evidence – a lesser burden. The state is seeking to incarcerate someone based on facts and evidence not proven BRD, in violation of the Constitutionally guaranteed presumption of innocence. Alleyne requires those facts to be proven BRD either at trial or sentencing. Proving them at sentencing makes more sense as opposed to having, potentially, two trials. The right to a jury would attach at sentencing. By denying that, the State is denying the right to a fair trial.

Leave a Reply