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Allied Legal Partners is a full service law firm designed for individuals and businesses alike.  Headquartered in downtown Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, the firm prides itself on client satisfaction and strives to achieve results through extensive preparation, thoughtful communication and the consistent execution of best practices and proven strategies.  Many of our experienced attorneys have led law firm practice groups and all have chosen to affiliate with Allied Legal Partners due to a shared desire to continue to deliver the utmost value to their clients in an ever changing legal marketplace.  Call us today or complete the online form to  tell us about your specific legal needs and schedule a free in-person, phone, or Skype consultation.

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The state of Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws in the wake of Alleyne and Newman (Part I)

Robert Perkins

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. NewmanNewman 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”)