In recent years, Defendants convicted of crimes in Pennsylvania were subject to possible sentencing enhancements under 42 Pa.C.S.A. Section 9712.1. Essentially, if a person was convicted by a jury for
possession with the intent to deliver narcotics, the prosecutor would present, at sentencing, evidence that the Defendant was also in close proximity of a firearm while in the course of dealing drugs. The burden of proof in both instances was on the Commonwealth. However, although the Commonwealth was required to prove to the factfinder the underlying crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the Commonwealth was only required to prove, at sentencing, to the sentencing judge, the evidence of the firearm only by the preponderance of evidence standard.
However, the United States Supreme Court Decision of Alleyne v. United States, ____ U.S. ______, 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013) and the Pennsylvania Superior Court Decision of
Commonwealth v. Newman, 2014 Pa. Super 178, (Pa. 2014), which was announced today, has rendered the mandatory sentencing structure of 42 Pa.C.S.A. Section 9712.1 unconstitutional and no longer workable without legislative guidance. The rationale is that the current mandatory sentencing structure "permits the trial court, as opposed to the jury, to increase a defendant's minimum sentence based upon a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was dealing drugs and possessed a firearm, or that a firearm was in close proximity to the drugs."
Thus, the Newman decision now prohibits any mandatory sentencing based on the Commonwealth merely proving a fact by the preponderance of evidence standard. All facts, including sentencing enhancements, must be pled in the indictment and proved to the factfinder beyond a reasonable doubt.
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