The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently issued a ruling declaring the mandatory minimum sentencing statutes unconstitutional. At issue in the case of Commonwealth v. Newman was whether the trial court’s imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence for a case allegedly involving possession of guns in close proximity to drugs was unconstitutional in light of the recent United States Supreme Court case Alleyne v. United States. In Alleyne, the USSC held that any fact which triggers the imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence must be submitted to a jury and that jury must find the existence of that fact beyond a reasonable doubt.
Presently, the language of the Pennsylvania mandatory minimum sentencing statutes states that it is the judge, NOT THE JURY, who determines whether the Commonwealth produced sufficient evidence that a fact that triggers a mandatory minimum sentence exists by a preponderance of the evidence.
A number of courts in various counties throughout Pennsylvania have already held that these statutes are unconstitutional. This decision by the Pennsylvania Superior Court is the first by any appellate court in Pennsylvania.