Will New Federal Policies on Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Affect Drug Cases in Pennsylvania?

By: Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney

Recent Justice Department Announcement- Sweeping Policy Changes for Mandatory Minimums
With the announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder that the U.S. Department of Justice will be loosening the application of mandatory minimum drug sentencing, a conversation has begun about how mandatory minimums are applied across the United States. Citing reasons such as racial inequity, expense, and prison overcrowding, the Attorney General announced in August that the Justice Department will drastically cut down on the use of mandatories for non-violent offenders without major gang affiliation. Justice Department policy will now include charging those who fit the criteria established with only offenses that do not carry mandatory minimum sentences under the law.

Will This Affect on Pennsylvania Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws?
For those charged with or facing possible drug prosecution in Pennsylvania, the question many are asking is: how will this affect drug cases charged in Pennsylvania courts? From a purely legal perspective, the answer is simple: not much. Although the Attorney General’s announcement created a new policy that will be passed down to the various Federal agencies (FBI, DEA, etc.), it came with no actual change in law. Therefore, it will not have any effect on state law, and it is not binding on the charging decisions of local authorities here in Pennsylvania (Police, District Attorneys, Attorney General, etc.). Put simply: the law in Pennsylvania as it relates to mandatory minimum sentencing remains unchanged, and local authorities are free to continue applying mandatory minimums as they always have. What may change is the pressure being put on local authorities to review their own policies. This is how an experienced criminal defense attorney, with a constant awareness of both changes in law and changes in policy, may be able to help if you’re facing a mandatory minimum sentence in Pennsylvania.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences- How They Work in Pennsylvania
Mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses in Pennsylvania are set forth by statute. For example, a person convicted of Possession with Intent to Deliver a Schedule I Narcotic weighing more than 100 grams faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 5-10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.* However, a mandatory minimum sentence in Pennsylvania is not automatic. The prosecutor has the discretion to decide whether to seek a mandatory minimum. After conviction but prior to sentencing, the prosecutor (usually the District Attorney’s Office) will inform the court whether it intends to seek a mandatory minimum. Once that notice if filed, the court must follow the mandatory and cannot deviate below it. This is why the assistance of an experienced criminal attorney from the very beginning of your case becomes essential.

*Example Is Not Intended as Legal Advice- only an attorney with knowledge of your case can determine whether a mandatory applies.

How Can an Attorney Help If I am Facing a Mandatory Minimum Sentence?
Mandatory minimums under Pennsylvania law are not automatic, and there is a great deal that your attorney can do for you if you are charged with an offense carrying a possible mandatory. Your attorney will be skilled at negotiating with prosecutors, who make the ultimate decision as to whether a mandatory minimum sentence will be sought if you are convicted or plead guilty. If negotiation fails, a skilled criminal attorney will be prepared to fight for you in trial, and will know exactly what subtle distinctions in the law and the findings of the jury could mean exposure to a long mandatory minimum. If you face any charge with the possibility of a mandatory minimum sentence, the stakes are far too high to go it alone. Call us today and schedule an appointment with an experienced criminal attorney with knowledge and experience in mandatory minimum laws.

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