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The state of Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws (Part II - a discussion of the Valentine decision)

Robert Perkins


In our last blog entry, we explained why, as a result of the Alleyne and Newman decisions, the following Pennsylvania mandatory minimum sentencing laws are unconstitutional:

·      42 P.S. § 9712

·      42 P.S. § 9712.1

·      42 P.S. § 9713

·      42 P.S. § 9718

·      42 P.S. § 9719

·      18 P.S. § 6317

·      18 P.S. § 7508

In a case decided just yesterday – Commonwealth v. Valentine – the Superior Court provided further confirmation of this fact.  Valentine was convicted at trial of robbery.  At sentencing, the trial judge imposed mandatory minimum sentences based on a finding that 42 P.S. §§ 9712 & 9713 applied.  Following Newman – which held that 42 P.S. § 9712.1 was unconstitutional – the Superior Court vacated the defendant’s sentence.  In doing so, the Valentine Court held that, because §§ 9712 and 9713 are structured similarly to § 9712.1, in that each provides that the fact triggering the mandatory minimum is to be found by a judge by a preponderance of the evidence, §§ 9712 and 9713 are also constitutionally infirm.  

Perhaps the most interesting discussion in Valentine is located in Footnote 4.  There, the Court emphasized the remarkable breadth of the Newman Court’s holding.  “[T]he entirety of [Pennsylvania’s procedurally defective] mandatory minimum sentencing statute[s] must be stricken as unconstitutional ….”  Thus, the Court implies, prior Superior Court decisions upholding imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence despite Alleyne – including Watley and Matteson – are overruled. 

The take-away here:  there is simply no way around it, many of Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws are unconstitutional “in their entirety,” and they cannot be applied regardless of a case’s facts.