An Update on Mandatory Minimum Sentences in Pennsylvania

By: Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney

In a recent ruling, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that some mandatory minimum sentencing laws in Pennsylvania are unconstitutional. The Superior Court’s ruling in Commonwealth v. Newman follows a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Alleyne v. United States. In Alleyne, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the U.S. Constitution requires any fact which would trigger the imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence to be proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. In Newman, the Pennsylvania court held that current Pennsylvania law, which allows only for a judge to make such findings, is unconstitutional.

If you or a loved one face criminal charges in Pennsylvania, this ruling highlights the need for immediate consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney. The law is still very much in flux in this area, and many prosecutors may continue to seek mandatory minimum sentences with the intention of appealing to a higher court. Our criminal defense attorneys are following these developments closely, and it is critical that you have your case reviewed by an experienced attorney to determine how the changes in law may affect your case.

This case also highlights the need to consult with an attorney in your case from the very outset. Though a court may not hear sentencing arguments until the very late stages of a criminal case, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors have long used mandatory sentencing minimums as powerful leverage in plea negotiations in criminal cases. It is critical to understand how the law on mandatory minimums will affect your case before making any decisions, and only an experienced attorney can advise you on such issues.

Although the Superior Court ruling has significantly changed the landscape for those facing criminal charges, there has yet to be any clear ruling on whether those who are currently serving mandatory minimum sentences are eligible to have their cases reviewed.

If you have questions about mandatory minimum sentences or any other matter relating to criminal justice in Pennsylvania, please contact me today at (717) 502-5000. With offices in Harrisburg, York and Dillsburg, I accept cases across all of central Pennsylvania and our telephone consultations are always at no cost.

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