Pa Superior Court: Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Scheme “Unconstitutional”

August 21, 2014

Appellant brings this appeal challenging the constitutionality of one of Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9712.1, following the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Alleyne v. United States, U.S. , 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013). We find that Alleyne does indicate that the sentencing practice under Section 9712.1 is unconstitutional.

-Judge Ford Elliot, August 20, 2014, writing for an en banc Superior Court.

Just yesterday, the Pennsylvania Superior Court released an opinion in Commonwealth v. Newman, that seems to provide some direction to divided Pennsylvania Common Pleas Courts left to fend for their own in the wake of the United States Supreme Court Alleyne v. United States decision.

Let’s break this down simply. In Alleyne, the Supreme Court held that all facts that increase a mandatory minimum sentence must be submitted to a jury and found true beyond a reasonable doubt.

In many states, Pennsylvania included, mandatory minimum sentences could be imposed by a judge who found certain facts to be true only by a preponderance of the evidence at sentencing.

Alleyne held this scheme unconstitutional.

Prosecutors in Pennsylvania have been fighting to apply mandatory minimum sentences ever since. But one by one, counties across Pennsylvania have been finding mandatory minimum sentences unconstitutional.

What Happened in Newman?

In Commonwealth v. Newman, the defendant was arrested following several controlled drug buys at an apartment in Glenside, Pa. Based on those buys, the police got a search warrant for the property, and found a “large quantity” of crack cocaine, drug paraphernalia, and a handgun a few feet away from the drugs.

The defendant went to trial, where the jury found him guilty of possession with intent to deliver, among other crimes. The prosecutor filed a “Notice of Intent to Seek Mandatory Sentence” under Pennsylvania’s gun & drug law, 42 Pa. C.S. §9712.1, which means a mandatory 5-10 years for a person found in possession of a firearm and drugs. The defendant was sentenced overall to 5-10 years.

He appealed, and the Superior Court affirmed his sentence on June 12, 2013. But just days later, on June 17, 2013, the United States Supreme Court released its Alleyne opinion, so Newman filed a petition for reconsideration, which the Superior Court granted.

Skipping over the legalese, after a review of trial court opinions from the Courts of Common Pleas across Pennsylvania, the Superior Court  in Newman ultimately found that “the very trial courts entrusted with the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences after Alleyne have found Section 9712.1 as a whole to be no longer workable[.]” Specifically, the Court found that the mandatory minimum sentencing provision at issue were not severable, and that under the statutory construction rules of Pennsylvania (1 Pa. C.S. §1925, Constitutional construction of statutes) the statute therefore as a whole must fail.

The Court then ruled that §9712.1 was unconstitutional, vacated Newman’s judgment of sentence, and remanded the case for resentencing “without consideration of any mandatory minimum sentence provided by Section 9712.1”.

What Does this Mean for Me?

If you’re not currently facing charges where mandatory minimum sentences may apply, then nothing, really.

But if you or a loved one is facing a case with a potential mandatory minimum sentence, then things change a lot.

Just today, I filed my first motion to bar application of a mandatory minimum sentence under 42 Pa.C.S. §9712.1 under Commonwealth v. Newman, in expectation of a hearing scheduled tomorrow in a client’s case.

We don’t yet know if the Commonwealth (the prosecutors trying to keep people locked up) is going to petition the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for allocatur (aka ask them for permission to appeal the Superior Court’s judgment), but we’ll find out soon.

I’ll be paying close attention in the meantime.

Congrats to Patrick I. McMenamin, Jr. for this victory for the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Leo.

Update 2014.8.22: The Judge granted my motion without even requiring argument.

 


FOP President John McNesby Can’t Stop Saying Stupid Things.

December 7, 2012

[Ed. Aug 1, 2014. So, John, you’ve been pretty silent since this happened.]

FOP President John McNesby Can’t Stop Saying Stupid Things.

Yesterday, I posted about the officers whose testimony was so incredible that the DA didn’t want to call them as witnesses anymore. Veteran attorney Brad Bridge of the Defender Association remarked that the officers were “among the most troubled in the department.”

The officers,

  • Perry Betts;
  • Brian Reynolds;
  • Michael Spicer;
  • Thomas Liciardello;
  • Brian Speiser; and
  • Lt. Robert Otto

were named in several Internal Affairs investigations and civil rights lawsuits alleging the use of excessive force, false arrests, and filing false reports.

Unsurprisingly, the shit has now hit the fan. Yesterday, the District Attorney withdrew charges against two men who’d been charged with drug dealing — all because of the lying liars of the Narcotics Unit.

From today’s Inquirer:

Two men accused of drug dealing had charges against them dropped Thursday after their attorney told a judge that five Philadelphia antinarcotics officers involved in their case had “partnered with drug dealers” in crime.

According to the article, defense attorney Larry Krasner argued to Judge Charles Hayden that:

“There was a group of police officers who essentially partnered with certain drug dealers, and they partnered with those drug dealers to do things that were both illegal and outright crimes.”

The Assistant District Attorney Bret Furbur remarked:

 “[T]he [District Attorney’s] office, my higher-ups, have informed me the case is going to be withdrawn.”

Naturally, it logically follows that the DA realized there was a substantial credibility issue with the narcotics unit officers. Further, it makes sense that when you’re trying get convictions (as ADAs are wont to do), it helps to call witnesses who are believable. Since these officers proved wholly unreliable, why would the DA want to call them as witnesses any longer?

But instead of noting that maybe, just maybe, FOP5 should raise the bar and suggest that their officers take that oath to tell the truth seriously, McNesby points the finger at District Attorney Seth Williams:

“[District Attorney Seth Williams] has no idea how to run the office. He doesn’t know the ramifications of what he’s done. He’s not just gotten these guys transferred, he’s tarnished their careers.”

He must have a variation on Tourette syndrome, where the afflicted impulsively says stupid things all the time. He just can’t help himself! Blaming the DA for FOP5 officer’s poor conduct that renders them incredible — now that’s really incredible.

After I shook my head in disbelief for a few minutes, I decided to put fingers to keyboard and pen this open letter.

Dear John:

I think you might find that the officers’ “tarnished careers” is the result that they’re 1) lying under oath; 2) the DA’s office realizes they’re lying under oath; 3) they’re constantly being sued under §1983 for civil rights violations; and 4) they’re all the subject of several IAB investigations.

Oh, John, reputations are important. When you have a reputation for being a dirty cop who does whatever he can to get a conviction, well, that kind of taint is difficult to remove. But these reputations don’t just appear out of thin air — they’re earned and well-deserved.

And when an officer’s reputation is such that even the DA doesn’t believe them anymore — well, that’s it’s not the DA’s fault. In fact, I’m pretty certain that DA Williams knows exactly what he’s doing by refusing to use them. He should be commended by refusing to rely on officers with combustible pants.

Maybe — just maybe — this will teach other officers out there a lesson. When you swear to tell the truth and the whole truth, you do it. When you swear an oath to preserve and uphold the law and our constitution, you do it.

Sure, I understand that you’re the president of FOP5, and since it’s an elected position you have a reputation to upkeep among the members. But your reputation with the citizenry, at this point, is nil. And you’re not helping the public perception of the PPD as working to protect their own first, the public second.

When you rush to defend even the worst of the police force, you tarnish the best of FOP5 as well.

So next time you point your finger at the DA for refusing to call dirty cops to the stand, think about where blame really lies.

Or just keep saying stupid things; you seem to excel at that.

In the meantime, Mr. Williams, keep doing the right thing.

[Ed. — Defense attorney Michael Coard, in his article “The 4 Most Annoying White People in Philadelphia” has the following to say about Mr. McNesby, which made me chuckle:

He wants all criminals jailed forever. So who’s gonna wear the blue uniforms, drive the white cars and beat the black people up when the good cops’ shifts end?]


Want to be Pulled Over? Sign up for Philadelphia’s S.A.V.E Program.

December 4, 2012
You have rights. These books say so.

You have rights. These books say so.
They are precious. Don’t sign them away.

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

These wise words attributed to founder Benjamin Franklin are too often lost on many today who figure “Well, I’m not doing anything wrong, so why shouldn’t I just agree to let police do whatever they want?”

And I thought on Franklin’s words today, after I learned about this little program here in Philadelphia called S.A.V.E. — a too-cute acronym for Stolen Auto Verification Effort. Let me explain this program to you. No, better yet, I’ll let the police explain it to you:

All Districts in the city still do the S.A.V.E. (Stolen Auto Verification Effort) program….

The SAVE program is a decal you put on your automobile that basically states that you don’t normally drive your vehicle late at night (between 12am and 6am). By putting this decal on your vehicle you are stating that you would like that vehicle to be pulled over if it is seen operating during those hours to ensure that the vehicle isn’t stolen.

Yes, you’re reading that right. It is literally a sign to the police that says “Please pull me over”. Read the rest of this entry »


Quote of the Day – From the Darkest Pit of Hell Edition.

January 26, 2012

You too can friend me on Facebook.

And you should be ashamed of yourself for even having a supporting agrument on his behalf. If this happened to your daughter I’m sure you be fucking silent right now. So if you have anymore supporting comments for this scumbag and his attorney, you should join them in the darkest pit of hell. Just saying. Prayers and thoughts for the VICTIM AND THERE FAMILY.

– Some guy on Facebook, responding to me defending a defense attorney for defending his client.

I know that guy was trying to insult me, but it really just made my day.