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Mandatory Drug Sentencing and Enhancements in PA

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Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences

More than a year ago, criminal defense attorneys in-the-know were challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's Mandatory Drug Sentencing Laws following the U.S. Supreme Court Decision of Alleyne v. United States.  

In Alleyne, the Supreme Court of the United States held that "any fact that increases the mandatory minimum is an 'element' that must be submitted to the jury."

Under Pennsylvania law, a person convicted of Drug Delivery or Possession with Intent to Deliver Drugs would face a mandatory minimum sentence where the offense occurred within a Drug-Free School Zone (2 years), the offense was committed while in possession of a firearm (5 years), or the weight of the drugs exceeded a certain amount (1 year and up depending on weight and drug).  Additionally, the question of whether a mandatory minimum sentence applied in a particular case was to be decided by a judge by a preponderance of the evidence.  

However, pursuant to the Alleyne decision, it was held that this question must be submitted to a jury and the relevant "element" (school zone, gun possession, or weight) must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt (a higher burden for the prosecution to meet).

Consequently, in Commonwealth v. Newman, the Pennsylvania Superior Court extended Alleyne ruling that Pennsylvania's Mandatory Drug Sentencing Statutes are unconstitutional (as currently written and reserving any fix for the legislature).  Thus, as it currently stands, mandatory minimum drug sentences do not apply in Pennsylvania.

Youth/School Enhancement

The decisions in Alleyne and Newman were specific to mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws and had not been directly extended to any other drug sentencing enhancements.

Separate from mandatory drug sentencing, Pennsylvania has a Youth/School Sentencing Enhancement:

204 Pa.Code § 303.10(b) Youth/School Enhancement.

(1) When the court determines that the offender distributed a controlled substance to a person or persons under the age of 18, the court shall consider the range of sentences described in § 303.9(c).

(2) When the court determines that the offender manufactured, delivered or possessed with intent to deliver a controlled substance within 250 feet of the real property on which is located a public or private elementary or secondary school, the court shall consider the sentence recommendations described in § 303.9(c).

(3) When the court determines both (b)(1) and (b)(2) apply, the court shall consider the sentence recommendations described in § 303.9(c).

(4) The Youth/School Enhancement only applies to violations of 35 P. S. § 780-113(a)(14) and (a)(30).

(5) The Youth/School Enhancement shall apply to each violation which meets the criteria above.

Under this provision, a person who sells drugs to a minor or manufactures, delivers, or possesses with the intent to deliver drugs within 250 feet of school property is subject to an increase or enhancement in their sentencing guidelines ranging from 6 to 18 months on the lower limit and 12 to 36 months on the upper limit.  204 Pa.Code 303.9(c).

In Commonwealth v. Ali, the Pennsylvania Superior Court considered whether Alleyne should be extended to sentencing enhancements.  The court held that sentencing enhancements are only advisory and not mandatory, thus, allowing a trial court discretion in determining whether an enhancement should be applied in a particular case.  Accordingly, non-mandatory, sentencing enhancements are constitutional and valid.  (Note:  It was also held that neither a daycare facility or pre-school constitutes an "elementary school" and do not trigger the enhancement.)

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About the Author:

Harrisburg Drug Defense Lawyer Shawn M. Curry is an experienced professional dedicated to helping people accused of drug crimes balance the scales of justice in their favor.

Shawn Curry Law is a criminal defense practice providing personal service and individualized case strategies to people throughout Central PA.

If you have been charged with a crime, contact Shawn Curry for help:  717-525-8733.

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