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Status of mandatory minimum sentences under PA law

A United States Supreme Court case (Alleyne v. United States) held that any fact that increases the sentence which someone could receive if convicted must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and determined by the factfinder during the trial process.  At issue in Alleyne was the imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence applicable in the case.  The Court held that the imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence raises the sentence which the defendant could received and, accordingly, his constitutional rights were violated when the facts triggering the mandatory minimum sentence were not determined beyond a reasonable doubt and not found by the factfinder.

Accordingly, this decision has created major waves in Pennsylvania criminal law.  For instance, a number of Court of Common Pleas judges in various counties (including Chester County) have held that the implication of any mandatory  minimum sentence is unconstitutional.  However, some judges in other counties (such as Delaware County) have listed the facts which would be necessary to trigger a mandatory minimum on the jury interrogatory sheet in an attempt to avoid any constitutional issues.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on this exact issue sometime in September.  Until then, this area of law remains unsettled.

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