Pennsylvania’s Mandatory Minumum Sentences Ruled Unconstitutional

On August 20, 2014, the Pennsylvania Superior Court in Commonwealth v. Newman ruled that Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws which allowed judges to decide whether certain facts existed that triggered a mandatory minimum sentence was unconstitutional. 

Specifically, under the sentencing scheme of Section 9712.1, possession of a firearm is considered a sentencing factor to be determined by the trial court upon  a preponderance of the evidence, and not element of the underlying crime to be determined by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. 

In Newman, the defendant was arrested following several controlled drug buys at an apartment in Glensdale, PA.  Accordingly, the police applied for and was granted a search warrant for the apartment, and found a large quantity of crack cocaine, drug paraphernalia in the form of plastic baggies and digital scales, and a handgun and bullets under a mattress a few feet away from the drugs.

On February 14, 2012, following a jury trial, Newman was convicted of two counts of possession with intent to deliver (“PWID”), two counts of simple possession, one count of possession of drug paraphernalia, one count of dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, one count of possessing an instrument of crime, and five counts of criminal conspiracy. On February 23, 2012, the Commonwealth filed a Notice of Intent to Seek Mandatory Sentence under Section 9712.1, which enhances the mandatory minimum sentences where a firearm is found on a drug dealer, an accomplice, or in the vicinity of the contraband.

On July 13, 2012, the trial court sentenced Newman pursuant to Section 9712.1 to 5 to 15 years imprisonment on one of the PWID convictions and a concurrent term of 3 to 10 years imprisonment on one of the conspiracy convictions. On July 3, 2012, the trial court reduced the PWID sentence to 5 to 10 years imprisonment.  Newman appealed his conviction, but the conviction was affirmed by the Superior Court. However, on June 17, 2013, just five days after his conviction was affirmed, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Alleyne v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 2151 (2013). 

In Alleyne, the United States 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 light of the ruling in Alleyne, Newman filed an application for reconsideration with the Superior Court, which was granted for en banc reargument.

The Alleyne court, opined 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 without legislative guidance. 

The Newman court held that Alleyne v. United States rendered 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 9712.1 unconstitutional. Accordingly, Newman’s sentence was vacated and his case was remanded for re-imposition of sentence without consideration of any mandatory minimum sentence provided by Section 9712.1. 


The decision in Newman only applies to cases where a mandatory minimum sentence applies.  For those who are not subject to a mandatory minimum sentence, the Newman case has no bearing on your case.

Just to name a few, a mandatory minimum sentences may apply in the following examples: (1) a 5 year mandatory minimum sentence for possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony, (2) a two year mandatory minimum sentence for dealing drugs within 1,000 feet of a school, and (3) sentences for possessing certain amounts of a controlled substance (e.g. mandatory minimum sentence of 1 year for possessing with intent to deliver over 2lbs but less than 10lbs of marijuana). 

In the wake of Newman, I have worked out plea negotiations of probation for individuals who were facing mandatory minimum sentencing of between 2to 5 years for drug offenses, which would have assured them a sentence of 2-10 years in state prison. Prior to Newman, Judges lacked the discretion to sentence a defendant below the mandatory minimum sentence guidelines unless the Commonwealth and the Defendant negotiated a plea agreement for less time. 

However, many of our clients have received standard range sentences ranging from fines and probation in cases they were initially facing state jail time due to the decision in Newman. 

Accordingly, if you or a loved one are facing a mandatory minimum sentence, it is important to speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who knows how to use the law to protect your rights.

Get the facts about the law and how changes can impact you.  Contact my office today for a no obligation consultation 717-737-3300