Over the summer, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the existing law that imposes mandatory minimum sentencing for anyone charged with delivering or possessing with intent to deliver drugs near a school zone. Originally, the minimum sentence requirement was two years in jail for anyone caught within 1,000 feet of a school.
The Supreme Court justices ruled that because the law forces judges to determine the proximate range in which a drug possession or sale had occurred, the juries are unable to make a factual determination, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment. The law also violates the Sixth Amendment by allowing the proximity determinations to be made with a lower burden of proof rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” as is typical in trials by jury.
Kyle Joseph Hopkins and Constitutional Rights
The state Supreme Court issued its ruling after three recent incidents involving Kyle Joseph Hopkins in the case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Hopkins. According to the criminal investigation, Hopkins was charged with selling heroin to a confidential informant in a school zone.
Under PA C.S. 6317(a), Hopkins would have been sentenced to the minimum of two years in prison if a judge determined that the sale took place within 1,000 feet of a school. Hopkins filed a Motion for Extraordinary Relief, claiming that the state law was in violation of his constitutional rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court has traditionally held that judges are allowed to find facts that will increase a minimum sentence, such as a 1,000-foot radius or location to impose a two-year minimum, but this standard was overturned in the 2013 case Alleyne v. United States.
In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that any fact that increases a minimum sentence cannot be used simply as a factor to be taken into account at sentencing. The fact must be treated as part of the crime and must be included in the charges presented to the jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to establish an acquittal or criminal sentencing.
Because of this ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court judges followed suit in Hopkins’ case and struck down 6317 as unconstitutional because it did not meet the standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court’s determination. Instead of simply doing away with the mandatory minimum penalty portion of the law, the court justices ruled to strike down the entire statute, stating that the problem was at the heart of the law and in the intent of the legislature.
Hopkins and its Impact
At Rehmeyer and Allat, Attorneys at Law, we represent anyone who has been charged with possession or intent to distribute drugs and illegal substances. The state Supreme Court ruling could have an impact on cases currently in trial or sentences that have already been handed down; so it is important that you discuss the potential options available to you with an attorney. For more information or a consultation regarding your case, contact one of our State College drug defense attorneys today.