It’s No Longer Mandatory – the Effect of Alleyne v. United States on Mandatory Sentencing

Deliver marijuana to any person within 1000 feet of a school and you will face a mandatory minimum sentence of two (2) to four (4) years of incarceration in a state correctional institution. That used to be the law but that is no longer true.

The United States Supreme Court struck down state laws throughout the country that allow for mandatory minimums based upon a judge’s determination after trial.

In the landmark decision, Alleyne v. United States, the United States Supreme Court held that any fact that increased the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory minimum sentence must be submitted to a jury.

What does that mean for Pennsylvania?

It means that current Pennsylvania statutes giving the trial judge the opportunity to determine whether several mandatory minimum sentences apply is unconstitutional. The Alleyne case declared these types of statutes an unconstitutional transfer of the jury’s obligation to a sentencing judge. When a statute is declared unconstitutional, that statute is no longer applicable.

For instance, prior to the Alleyne decision, it fell to the sentencing judge to determine whether the sale or delivery of illegal drugs occurred within 1000 feet of a school. If the judge determined that that delivery did in fact occur within a “school zone,” the judge was required to apply the two (2) year school zone mandatory sentence. The sentencing judge had no discretion whether to apply that mandatory minimum sentence. This Pennsylvania law directly contradicted the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.

While several Pennsylvania courts were hesitant to strike down Pennsylvania’s mandatory sentencing laws after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania ended the debate when it ruled in Commonwealth v. Newman that several mandatory minimum sentence statutes requiring a judge to make a determination (i.e., drug school zone) were unconstitutional and could not be changed absent the legislature taking the necessary steps to rewrite the law. The Newman case declared judge-determined mandatory minimum sentences no longer valid.

These decisions dramatically changed the prospective sentences of those charged with a plethora of crimes.

An individual with no prior criminal record used to be subject to the mandatory minimum sentence of two (2) to four (4) years of incarceration for the manufacture, delivery, or possession with intent to deliver marijuana. Those same individuals now could be sentenced to a probationary sentence requiring no time in jail.

While these court decisions certainly changed the circumstances of those charged with various offenses, an individual faced with prosecution for these and other serious offenses should consult a thorough, knowledgeable, and aggressive attorney before making any decisions regarding his/her particular situation.

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