Mandatory Minimum Sentences Imposed After Stipulating to the Weight of Heroin Deemed Unconstitutional

Prior blogs have addressed mandatory minimums in Pennsylvania, though prosecutors have been trying to find ways around the constitutional defects and thus new cases interpreting the laws are decided every day. For a more thorough review of mandatory minimums, please see the prior blog, Mandatory Minimum Sentences Imposed Pursuant To Sex Offenses Deemed Unconstitutional in Pennsylvania.

In Commonwealth v. Fennell, the prosecution secured a stipulation from the defense as to the weight and contents of 55 bags seized. The stipulation, or agreement, removed any dispute as to the weight (2.035 grams) or content (heroin) of the bags. Following a trial where Fennell was found guilty of possessing the bags with the intent to distribute them, the prosecution successfully convinced the trial court to impose the three-year mandatory minimum sentence pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S.A. §7508(a)(7)(i) because the weight of the substance was over two grams.

A similar attempt to cure the defect was made by the prosecution in a case captioned Commonwealth v. Valentine, though in Valentine the aggravating factor was submitted to the jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt. The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that by submitting the aggravating factor to the jury, the trial court performed an impermissible legislative function. The question presented in Fennell was: If the aggravating factor is stipulated by the defense (rather than submitted to the jury), may the court impose a mandatory minimum sentence?

The Superior Court ruled even a defense stipulation as to the aggravating factors will not save the constitutional defects in mandatory minimum statutes. The Superior Court stated they “see no meaningful difference…between submitting the element to the jury and accepting a stipulation from a defendant.” The crucial point here is that the creation of a new procedure to impose a mandatory minimum sentence is solely within the province of the legislature, not the prosecution or trial judges.

As you can see, the law in this area is vastly changing since Alleyne was decided. With such complicated issues, it is extremely important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately if you are charged with a criminal offense that could include a mandatory minimum sentence. At the Mazza Law Group, P.C., our attorneys are well versed in all sentencing enhancement statutes and follow the case law surrounding this topic closely.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences Imposed After Stipulating to the Weight of Heroin Deemed Unconstitutional was last modified: August 31st, 2015 by Steven Trialonas