Pennsylvania Court — Unconstitutional mandatory minimum sentences invalidated even if they predated Alleyne

Filed under: Criminal Law by Contributor @ August 21, 2014

When it was decided in 2013, the legal community knew that Alleyne v. United States would have a large impact on criminal trials throughout the country. Alleyne made mandatory minimum sentences elements of the crime that must be submitted to juries rather than decided upon by judges during sentencing. The only question of Alleyne was when we would see it start to take effect in the rest of the country. The answer, as it turns out, is now.

In Commonwealth v. Newman, 2014 Pa.Super. 178, the defendant challenged the constitutionality of a Pennsylvania mandatory minimum sentence after he had been arrested for and found guilty of selling drugs. The Commonwealth had sought to invoke a mandatory minimum because a firearm had been found “approximately six to eight feet” from the drugs. During sentencing, which occurred prior to the decision of Alleyne, a mandatory minimum was imposed. Newman appealed his sentence.

The Superior Court vacated the sentence, finding that Alleyne made the current mandatory minimum sentencing practice in Pennsylvania unconstitutional. In this case, the element of whether the gun was “in close proximity” to the drugs would have to be submitted to the jury. Most importantly, the Court also found that Alleyne applied retroactively to Newman’s case. The importance of the retroactivity is that people who were sentenced to mandatory minimum sentences in the past can get relief even if the sentence was imposed prior to the decision in Alleyne.

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