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Pennsylvania Legislators Introduce Bill Aimed at Restoring Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

July 06, 2017

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

Recently, the House of Representatives passed House Bill 741, which proposes reinstating mandatory minimum sentences for specific crimes in Pennsylvania. The bill is currently being reviewed in the Senate Judiciary and if passed, could have a significant impact on how defendants are sentenced across the state. If you have been arrested for a crime and want to learn more about the potential sentences that you face, please contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can address your concerns and ensure that your rights are protected.

Current Law

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing law was unconstitutional. The law in question allowed courts to impose mandatory minimum sentences on defendants charged with committing certain offenses, including high-level drug crimes, child abuse, and crimes involving the use of a firearm. Under the terms of the law, prosecutors were permitted to seek a mandatory minimum sentence as long as they notified both the court and defense counsel of their intent to do so.

Upon review, the Supreme Court held that a mandatory minimum sentence can only be applied if there is a specific criminal sentencing law that outlines the procedures for imposing such a sentence. According to the Court, laws invoking a mandatory minimum sentence that did not meet these requirements violated a defendant’s procedural right to have a jury or judge determine facts that affect the defendant’s sentence. Furthermore, the law as it stood did not provide defendants with proper notice of the potential sentences they faced.

Proposed Law

If passed, House Bill 741 would allow for the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences in cases that involve:

  • Drug trafficking;
  • Trafficking drugs to minors;
  • Selling drugs in drug-free school zones;
  • The use of firearms during certain crimes; and
  • Assaults against children and the elderly.

The bill attempts to address the constitutional issues raised in the 2015 Supreme Court case by allowing prosecutors to present evidence to the fact finder, whether a judge or a jury, who will then be allowed to decide whether a sentencing trigger has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If they do not believe that the prosecutor has met this standard, prosecutors will not be permitted to pursue a mandatory minimum sentence.

Despite the bill’s passage in the House, many remain skeptical of its success. In fact, multiple detractors have pointed to studies, which indicate that instituting mandatory minimum sentences does not reduce recidivism. Furthermore, budget estimates reveal that if passed, the law would cost around $85 million a year.

Schedule an Initial Consultation With an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Today

The recently proposed law could significantly increase the minimum sentences imposed on those who are convicted of certain crimes. To speak with a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney about your own case, please contact van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim by calling (215) 486-0123. You can also reach us by completing one of our standard contact forms or by initiating a live chat with a dedicated member of our legal team.



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