House Bill 1601, sponsored by Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) and Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) has passed the House with a vote of 143 to 54. The Bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 30, 2015. There is opposition to the passage of the bill in the Pennsylvania Senate which is currently seeking input from the Pennsylvania Defense Bar.
The Bill seeks to restore mandatory sentences which were struck down as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2013, Alleyne v. United States. Prior to the ruling, judges could impose a minimum sentence without having a jury consider all of the elements of the crime at hand. HB 1601 seeks to revive mandatory sentences by changing some wording in the statute and requiring that all material facts, other than the fact of a prior record, be determined by a jury. Mandatory minimum sentencing may ultimately tie the hands of judges who might otherwise choose less severe sentences.
The Bill was originally crafted to deal with violent crimes, but now amends Title 18 and 42 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes in the following categories:
- In minors, further providing for sentencing and penalties for trafficking drugs to minors and for drug-free school zones;
- in other offenses, further providing for drug trafficking sentencing and penalties;
- sentencing for offenses committed on public transportation,
- for sentencing for offenses against the elderly,
- for sentences against infants, and
- for sentences for offenses committed while impersonating a law enforcement officer.
- HB 1601 will reinstate all PA non-violent drug mandatory minimums including mandatory state incarceration for 10 cannabis plants, 2 grams of cocaine, and 1 gram of heroin.
President Obama recently ordered the release of over 6,000 non-violent drug prisoners who were sentenced under strict federal mandatory guidelines. Of the approximately 50,000 inmates in Pennsylvania, nearly 25% of them are serving time for drug related offenses which carried mandatory minimum sentences before the Supreme Court ruling in Alleyne, at a cost of $35,000 – $45,000 per inmate per year to house.
- Click on the link below for a Printer’s version of the Bill