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What is a De Facto Life Sentence?

October 21, 2020

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

The case of the “Serial Suburban Burglar” was heard in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in early October. The court was divided on the opinion and now, the public is as well. The man accused of burglarizing 31 homes in 2016, was sentenced to a jail term between 58 and 116 years, which is harsh, even for the violent crime of burglary. The sentence is possible due to the fact that the burglar received a de facto life sentence. What does that mean though, and how can a person face such severe penalties when the Pennsylvania statutes outline less severe consequences for certain crimes?

What is a De Facto Life Sentence?

A de facto life sentence is any non-life sentence that encompasses such a great amount of time that the convicted individual will likely die while in prison or live out the vast majority of their life in jail prior to their release. Individuals that receive a de facto life sentence are also usually ineligible for parole or re-sentencing. As such, a de facto life sentence is one of the worst a person could receive.

Currently, there is no legal definition regarding the length of a de facto life sentence. While the United States Sentencing Commission has deemed the cutoff to be no longer than 470 months, or just under 40 years, individual states sometimes deviate from this. For example, the California Supreme Court has determined that juveniles cannot be sentenced longer than 50 years, as they have the most opportunity for rehabilitation.

Typical Penalties for Burglary in Pennsylvania

Due to the fact that a person could potentially receive a de facto life sentence for any offense, it is crucial that accused individuals work with a criminal defense lawyer that can help them avoid these steep penalties. The importance of this is highlighted in the most recent case of the Serial Suburban Burglar.

Under normal circumstances, the serial suburban burglar would have faced anywhere between three to 20 years in prison. The crime of burglary in Pennsylvania has several different degrees. The least severe charge is a fourth-degree burglary, which has a penalty of up to three years in prison for those convicted. The most severe charge of burglary is first-degree burglary, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison for convicted individuals.

The burglar received an extremely harsh sentence because he received consecutive prison sentences for each of his victims. When affirming the sentence, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice stated that the burglar broke the sanctity of the safety a person feels when inside their home, and the victims will live in fear for a very long time.

Let Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers Help with Your Case

Criminal trials are not predictable and a person could unexpectedly face even harsher penalties than what is outlined in the statutes of the state. If you have been charged with a crime, you need the help of a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer that can create a solid defense for your case. At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, we know how to defend against burglary charges and other state crimes to give you the best chance of beating your charges and avoiding harsh penalties such as de facto life sentences. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.



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