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An Outline of Pennsylvania Mandatory Minimum Sentences and 3-Strikes Law

Many states, including Pennsylvania, have mandatory minimum sentencing as part of their state sentencing guidelines. In Pennsylvania, this system was largely gutted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, although some laws are still on the books.

Mandatory minimum sentences impose specific minimum sentencing requirements for certain crimes or offenders. A mandatory minimum sentence is often somewhat higher than typical or standard minimum sentencing requirements. They are often imposed in cases involving serious violent crimes, DUIs, and repeat offenders. Pennsylvania’s 3-strikes laws impose much harsher minimum sentencing requirements when a defendant is convicted of their third felony case. A defendant facing their third strike faces enhanced sentencing and higher mandatory minimums, even if their third strike is for a relatively minor offense.

Criminal defendants should always be aware of a conviction’s possible penalties and consequences. Our Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys can help you challenge your charges and hopefully avoid overly harsh mandatory minimums. For a free case evaluation, call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171.

What Are Mandatory Minimum Sentences in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, a mandatory minimum sentence is the bare minimum amount of jail or prison time a convicted defendant may face for a certain offense. Mandatory minimum sentences vary based on the crime involved and the defendant’s criminal record. In most cases, a mandatory minimum sentence is higher than the ordinary sentencing minimums imposed by state guidelines. As such, mandatory minimum sentencing requirements tend to come up in cases involving more serious offenses or defendants with long criminal records.

In the past, there were more mandatory minimum sentences on the books in Pennsylvania. However, in 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down many of the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws, leaving only a few intact. The court reasoned that imposing mandatory minimum sentences without a decision from a jury on the matter is unconstitutional. The laws left in place allowed juries to decide whether a mandatory minimum sentence should be applied.

One key element of a mandatory minimum sentence is that judges cannot avoid them. The whole point of these sentences is that they are mandatory. Ordinarily, judges have a great deal of discretion when imposing sentencing in criminal cases. Under mandatory minimum sentencing laws, judges have little to no discretion, making it much harder for defendants to avoid overly harsh punishments. Our Northeast Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys can help you understand how mandatory minimums affect your case.

Common Examples of Mandatory Minimum Sentences in Pennsylvania

Many mandatory minimum sentences are related to more serious criminal charges, often involving acts of violence. For example, under 42 Pa.C.S. § 9712(a), there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years for defendants convicted of crimes committed with a firearm. The defendant must be found to have used a firearm to place the victim in fear of bodily harm or death to qualify under this mandatory minimum sentence. It does not matter if the gun was not used, loaded, or even real as long as the victim’s belief and fear were real.

Another mandatory minimum sentence that often makes headlines is the sentence for murder in the first degree. Under 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(a), defendants convicted of murder in the first degree can expect a minimum life sentence in prison. Sentencing in these cases happens in a bifurcated hearing where a jury will determine whether the defendant should face the mandatory minimum or capital punishment. Even if a jury decides not to impose capital punishment, there is nothing a judge can do to prevent or reduce the mandatory minimum of life in prison.

Some mandatory minimum sentences apply to specific kinds of charges and defendants. For example, under the mandatory minimum sentencing requirements of 42 Pa.C.S. § 9718.2(a)(1), a person convicted of Tier I, II, or III sexual offenses after having previously been convicted of the same or similar offense will face a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison. A third conviction for a sexual offense may lead to a mandatory life sentence. Our Bucks County criminal defense attorneys can assist you in understanding and challenging the charges in your case.

Pennsylvania 3-Strikes Laws

Pennsylvania’s 3-Strikes Laws have a similar effect to mandatory minimum sentences in that they tend to lead to greater minimum sentences. However, while mandatory minimum sentences apply to specific criminal charges (e.g., mandatory minimums for murder or sexual offenses), 3-Strikes Laws apply to all crimes of violence.

The state’s 3-Strikes Law can be found under 42 Pa.C.S. § 9714(a). According to the law, a person convicted of a second violent offense must be sentenced to at least 10 years in prison. If a defendant is convicted of a third violent offense, they must be sentenced to at least 25 years in prison. If you are unsure whether your current charges constitute a second or third strike, our Delaware County criminal defense lawyers can review your case and records to determine if you are facing a second or third strike.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the use of 3-Strikes Laws. In many cases, the third violent crime for which a defendant is convicted is relatively minor and might ordinarily be punished by only a few years in prison at most. As a third strike, the offense suddenly becomes punishable by over two decades behind bars.

How 3-Strikes Laws Affect Minimum Sentences in Pennsylvania

Although 3-Strikes Laws and mandatory minimum sentences are legally separate, they tend to overlap in certain areas. For example, many mandatory minimum sentencing laws kick in when a defendant is convicted of a subsequent offense, much like 3-Strikes laws. Other times, 3-Strikes Laws create a mandatory minimum sentence where one did not exist before. A person convicted of their third strike must face at least 25 years in prison for an offense that might normally not have such a high mandatory minimum sentence.

Sometimes, mandatory minimum sentences and 3-Strikes Laws apply to the same case, and courts must figure out which law should apply. Under 42 Pa.C.S. § 9716, where two or more minimum sentencing laws might apply, the court must apply the one that comes with the greater penalty. If you are facing a second or third strike or some other mandatory minimum sentence, call our Montgomery County criminal defense lawyers for help.

Call Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers for a Free Case Assessment

If you are facing criminal charges and this is not your first offense, or you believe mandatory minimum sentences might apply, contact our Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyers for help now. For a free case review, call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171.