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Pennsylvania judges reject minimum sentence laws

May 15, 2014

HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Common Pleas judges in a central Pennsylvania county have voted 4-2 to reject the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year.

In Alleyne v. United States, the high court ruled that a jury should decide whether certain factors that trigger mandatory sentences have been proven. Under Pennsylvania law, judges are supposed to decide the issue of mandatory sentences — and then only after a jury has rendered its verdict of guilt.

The Alleyne case involved a man whose mandatory minimum sentence increased from five to seven years in prison after a judge determined the man’s accomplice brandished a weapon during a robbery, even though the Virginia federal court jury that convicted the man didn’t specifically find that occurred.

When similar issues were raised by a defense attorney representing two clients facing mandatory sentences in Blair County, President Judge Jolene Kopriva decided all six county judges would hear the issue and accept whatever the majority decided.

Last month, county prosecutors and defense attorney Thomas Dickey argued before the judges, who issued their ruling on Wednesday, the Altoona Mirror (http://bit.ly/1jLkuYi ) first reported.

“It’s a sad day for victims. It is a sad day for law enforcement. It is a sad day for society,” said District Attorney Richard Consiglio, who disagreed with the decision.

One of Dickey’s clients faced mandatory sentences for allegedly dealing drugs in school zones and the other for having a weapon while possessing marijuana.

The mandatory minimums are spelled out in state laws designed to protect children from drug dealing and to punish dealers who possess weapons more severely.

But since the Alleyne decision, Pennsylvania judges have had no clear guidance on whether or how they should impose mandatory minimum sentences. Not only do state laws conflict with the Supreme Court, but legal experts disagree on whether entire laws governing crimes that carry the mandatory sentences should now be overturned.

Consiglio said he’ll appeal in hopes the state Superior Court will settle the issue. Dickey believes the legislature needs to re-write the laws to accommodate the Supreme Court decision.


Information from: Altoona Mirror, http://www.altoonamirror.com

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