Montgomery County Court Rejects Mandatory Sentencing as Unconstitutional

Filed under: Criminal Law by Contributor @ March 31, 2014

On March 21, Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas President Judge William Furber, Jr. applied the Supreme Court’s opinion in Alleyne v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2151, 2155 (2013) to Commonwealth v. Brockington, Commonwealth v. Blakeney, and Commonwealth v. Bates. The Court in Alleyne held that elements of a crime that trigger mandatory minimum sentences must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and submitted to a jury, and that the defendant must be notified of the applicability of a mandatory minimum sentence in the charging document.

In the three cases before President Judge Furber, the Commonwealth sought to amend the bills of information to include factual allegations which would trigger mandatory minimum sentences (drug offenses committed with firearms, drug-free school zones, and drug trafficking, respectively) if proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The Commonwealth sought to amend the bills of information in this manner in order to comply with Alleyne, since the Pennsylvania criminal statutes explicitly state that facts triggering mandatory minimum sentences may not be treated as elements of a crime, that the Commonwealth does not have to notify the defendant of the applicability of a mandatory minimum prior to sentencing, and that it is up to the judge to determine whether the facts triggering the mandatory minimum have been proven under a preponderance of the evidence standard.

President Judge Furber opined that despite the Commonwealth’s attempt to comply with Alleyne, the mandatory minimums still do not pass constitutional muster. This is because the parts of the statutes that are clearly unconstitutional under Alleyne cannot be severed from the rest of the statute in this manner, as the end result would be the creation of entirely new crimes, and severing the statutes in this way would conflict with the clear intent of the legislature.

The Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas decided a similar case the same way recently. Click here to read our blog about that decision.

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