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Pennsylvania Superior Court Holds that Trial Court May Impose Both Mandatory Minimum and Conditional Minimum Sentences upon a Defendant, Pursuant to State Statutes

Posted On: June 14, 2010 by Marc Neff

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recent decided an appeal by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in the case of Commonwealth v. Hansley. In Hansley, Frederick Hansley pled guilty to one count of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, for an incident in which he sold cocaine to a police officer in September of 2008. Hansley pled guilty to a second count of possession with intent to deliver for an incident in which he sold cocaine to the same officer in October of 2008. Both sales were conducted within 1,000 feet of a school zone. Hansley’s guilty pleas subjected him to mandatory minimum sentences, according to state statute, of one to two years for selling drugs in a school zone and three to six years for the possession with intent to distribute charges.

The Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive Act, or RRRI, is a Pennsylvania statute which allows a Court to impose conditional minimum sentences upon a defendant; the act is written to allow non-violent offenders an early release from prison so long as they comply with the necessary requirements. The amount of controlled substance in Hansley’s cases required the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences according to statute, however also allowed for sentences to be imposed under the RRRI. As such, Hansley was sentenced to the mandatory minimum sentences of one to two and three to six years respectively, but also allowed entry into the RRRI program with minimum sentence of eighteen to twenty-seven months. Therefore, Hansley would be eligible for parole after the conditional minimum sentence is served, assuming he’s complied with all necessary requirements under the program; a shorter term than the mandatory minimum sentence imposed.

The Commonwealth appealed Hansley’s sentence to the Superior Court, citing the RRRI’s conditional minimum sentences conflicted with the mandatory minimum sentences which were required by statute. The Commonwealth argued that the Trial Court did not have authority to impose sentence under the RRRI where a mandatory minimum sentence is in place. The Superior Court discussed the assumption that when a new law is passed, the legislature considers all applicable laws which are currently in place. Since there is no mention in the RRRI as to a conflict with the applicable statutes to Hansley’s case, the Court rationed that the Trial Court was at liberty to impose the sentence as such. Further, the Court reasoned that Hansley must comply with the requirements under the RRRI in order to receive early parole; otherwise he will serve the entire sentence as applicable under the mandatory minimum statute.

Drug Possession

Possession of a controlled substance is a crime which carries many harsh penalties. Depending on the quantity of controlled substance you are found to possess, you may be charged with intent to deliver or drug trafficking. Such charges carry even greater penalties. For example, possessing between 2 and 10 grams of crack-cocaine with intent to traffic carries a minimum penalty of 1 year in prison for a first offense, and 3 years for subsequent offenses. Larger quantities mandate longer minimum sentences as well.

Drug offenses are serious matters which involve serious penalties. If you have been charged with a drug offense, there are many defenses which may be available. Contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer immediately, so that your situation can be assessed and a defense to your charges can be developed. To schedule a confidential consultation contact Marc Neff at (215) 563-800 or email at marc@nefflawoffices.com.

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Posted in: Drug Crimes