The state of Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws in the wake of Alleyne and Newman (Part I)
As a result of two recently decided (and major) constitutional cases, many of Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws are now unconstitutional. The first significant case was Alleyne v. United States, which was decided in 2013. In Alleyne, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a defendant’s mandatory minimum prison sentence because, when imposing it, the trial judge followed procedures that violated the defendant’s 6th Amendment right to a trial by jury. The Alleyne case declared a new constitutional rule relating to sentencing: any fact that triggers a mandatory minimum sentence must be (1) decided by a jury (not a judge) and (2) found to have occurred beyond a reasonable doubt (not by a preponderance of the evidence).
The significance of the Alleyne decision for Pennsylvania criminal defendants was laid bare this past August, when the Superior Court issued its landmark decision in Commonwealth v. Newman. Newman examined the effect of the Alleyne Court’s holding on Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and, in particular, the mandatory sentence prescribed by 42 P.S. § 9712.1 (commonly referred to as the “Drugs and Gun Mandatory”). The Newman Court ruled that § 9712.1 violates a defendant’s jury trial right because, according to subsection (c) of the statute, the fact triggering the mandatory minimum must be decided by a judge - not the jury - by a preponderance of the evidence - not beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result, the Court ruled, § 9712.1 is unconstitutional.
The Newman Court’s rationale applies with equal force to other Pennsylvania mandatory sentencing laws that are structured similarly to § 9712.1. In other words, any statute that provides that the fact triggering a mandatory minimum sentence is to be decided by a judge, by a preponderance of the evidence, is unconstitutional. For example, there should be no question that these additional mandatory minimum sentencing laws are also unconstitutional:
· 42 P.S. § 9712 (providing for a mandatory minimum sentence for “offenses committed with firearms”);
· 42 P.S. § 9713 (providing for a mandatory minimum sentence for “offenses committed on public transportation”)
· 42 P.S. § 9718 (providing for a mandatory minimum sentence for “offenses against infant person”)
· 42 P.S. § 9719 (providing for a mandatory minimum sentence for “offenses committed while impersonating a law enforcement officer”)
· 18 P.S. § 7508 (providing for a mandatory minimum sentence for “Drug trafficking”)
· 18 P.S. § 6317 (providing for a mandatory minimum sentence for “the delivery or possession with intent to deliver [a] controlled substance [in a d]rug-free school zone”)