The Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled that mandatory minimum sentences – including those imposed on nonviolent drug crimes – are unconstitutional, a ruling which will have a large and immediate impact on the state’s legal system.
The court made the ruling as part of a case against a Montgomery County man, James Newman, who received a mandatory 5-year sentence for possession of drugs (cocaine) and a gun. The court vacated the sentence, and called the current practice of mandatory minimum sentencing “unconstitutional”.
“Plainly, Section 9712.1 can no longer pass constitutional muster”, states the court’s opinion. “It permits the trial court as opposed to the jury, to increase a defendant’s minimum sentence based upon a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was dealing drugs and possessed a firearm, or that a fire arm was in close proximity to the drugs.” It continues; “Under Alleyne [Alleyne v. United States], the possession of the firearm must be pleaded in the indictment, and must be found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt before the defendant may be subjected to an increase in the minimum sentence. As that is not the case instantly, we are constrained to vacate appellant’s sentence and remand for resentencing without regard for any mandatory minimum sentence prescribed by Section 9712.1.”
Five justices agreed with Justice Kate Ford Elliott on her opinion, while three justices agreed on overturning the Newman case, but not the full scope of Elliott’s opinion.
The full opinion can be found by clicking here.