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DOES A SINGLE, PRESENT CONVICTION OF A VIOLENT CRIME AMOUNT TO A “HISTORY” OF VIOLENT BEHAVIOR?

The question presented in Cullen-Doyle was whether a single conviction for burglary – which the parties agreed was a crime demonstrating violent behavior – constituted a history of present or past violent behavior.

The matter concerned a statutory risk reduction incentive (RRRI) program, eligibility for which requires that the offender lack a “history of present or past violent behavior.”

Acknowledging that there was some doubt raised concerning the proper interpretation of the word “history,” the Court found that the General Assembly did not intend to preclude eligibility under the present circumstances, i.e. – a single, present conviction.

Additionally, the Court concluded that the rule of lenity bolstered the conclusion that a single, present conviction for a violent crime does not constitute a history of violent behavior. And, since the Court found the RRRI Act was a statute that has the effect of imposing a sentence, the Court concluded that it is subject to the rule of lenity. As such, “any ambiguity surrounding the meaning of the word ‘history’ should be resolved in favor of those seeking admission into the program.”

Commonwealth v. Sean Cullen-Doyle, No. 16 WAP 2016 (Pa. July 20, 2017).

CASE LINK: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Supreme/out/J-101-2016mo%20-%2010317994921358249.pdf?cb=1

 

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