Guns + Drugs ≠ 5 anymore. The State of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Statutes following Newman

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Several Pennsylvania mandatory minimum sentencing statutes are ripe to be struck down in the wake of the Superior Court’s ruling in Commonwealth v. Newman.  The decision in Newman is just the beginning of a cluster of appeals litigation following the United States Supreme Court Decision in Alleyne v. United States.

Many states have statutes requiring mandatory minimum sentences for offenders who are found guilty of a crime. When the judge finds certain aggravating factors are present (such as possession or use of a firearm or presence in a school zone), then the Court is required to sentence the offender to a mandatory minimum sentence that is often far more harsh and severe than the standard range sentence the offender may have been facing.

In those cases where a mandatory minimum is applicable, the Jury decides whether the offender was guilty of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, and then the judge decides whether the mandatory triggering factors were present based on a preponderance of the evidence.  The holding in Alleyne found that this sentencing scheme was unconstitutional. Factors used to apply mandatory minimum sentences must be submitted to a jury.

Newman, applying the holding in Alleyne, found that Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing scheme (codified in 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9712.1) of 5 years to be applied in Possession with Intent to Deliver cases where a firearm is found in close proximity to the Defendant, to be unconstitutional. You may recall advertising for this sentencing scheme in Pennsylvania’s popular “Guns + Drugs = 5” campaign.  This mandatory minimum sentencing scheme as well as many like it have specific provisions that the factors mandating the application of a minimum “shall not be an element of the crime” and that application of the mandatory minimum “shall be determined at sentencing”  The court in Newman found that these provisions in mandatory minimum sentences are inseparable from the sentencing statute, and therefore the mandatory minimum sentencing statute that incorporates these is unconstitutional in its entirety.

This has wide reaching ramifications for Defendants facing charges in which a mandatory minimum may be applicable.  While “guns + drugs = 5” has been struck down, many more mandatory minimums are sure to fall on appeal in cases where they have been applied and the court’s analysis in Newman applies. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges where mandatory minimums may apply, or have already been convicted or sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence that is now illegal, you need an experienced attorney to guide you through the complicated process of handling your case in the wake of this new precedent.  Attorney Frank Walker is a Top 100 criminal defense attorney with experience handling even the most technical of criminal cases on appeal.  Call today to schedule an appointment! Our lines are open at all times, seven days a week at (412) 212-3878.