Under Pennsylvania criminal sentencing law, judges are required to determine:
1. an Offense Gravity Score which will determine sentencing,
2. the Prior Record Score (if any), and
3. the guideline sentence recommendation (considering deadly weapon or youth/school enhancements and aggravating or mitigating factors).
This applies to felonies and misdemeanors under Pennsylvania (state) law, not federal law. Read about sentencing for drug crimes under federal law. In the vast majority of criminal cases in Pennsylvania, the applicable sentence recommendations are in the Basic Sentencing Matrix, 204 PA Code Section 303.16. See below for the enumerated sections of the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines.
If you or a loved one is facing drug possession or dealing charges in Pennsylvania, you’ll need to know what the potential sentence is. Unfortunately, the answer depends on factors such as how much of the illegal substance was possessed/seized, whether the individual has a prior record, whether a weapon was found with the seized items, etc.
The Offense Gravity Score (OGS) is set out for every enumerated offense in Pennsylvania, including gun possession and drug (possession and dealing) crimes. The score is a number which increases based on the severity of the crime and other factors like prior record. The focus of this criminal law article will be drug sentences.
It’s important to note that sentencing courts aren’t required to sentence within the guidelines. They can deviate from the guidelines as long as there is a valid reason which is stated and explained on the record. However, sentencing judges are required to correctly apply the guidelines. In other words, they must correctly determine the OGS in order to reach the proper sentence recommendation.
The Offense Gravity Score for Drug and Controlled Substance Crimes (Possession or Dealing)
One of the key scoring elements for purposes of the OGS is the weight of the controlled substance. The greater the weight, the higher the OGS. For example, possession with intent to deliver cocaine over 1,000 grams has an assigned OGS of 13, whereas possession with intent to deliver cocaine less than 2 grams, has an OGS of 5.
For purposes of the OGS for violations of Pennsylvania’s controlled substance law, including possession and dealing, the entire mixture containing the controlled substance will be counted. See Section 303.3 (e).
For example, a Philadelphia resident is arrested for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver. He was charged with possession of 3 bricks of cocaine weighing a total of 3 pounds (over 1,000 grams). The bricks were not pure cocaine. Rather, they contained a white powdery bulking agent designed to increase their weight. The bulking agent is boric acid, a perfectly legal household cleaning agent. Despite the fact that the bricks were not pure cocaine, the entire weight of over 1,000 grams means that the OGS for the offense will be 13. With an OGS of 13, the minimum range would be a 60-78 month prison sentence. Theoretically, this would be for a first time offender. If there’s a prior criminal record and/or aggravating factors, the range could be increased to 108-126 months.
Deadly Weapon Enhancement – Possession Versus Use
One of the most important factors that often comes into play in Philadelphia drug possession or dealing cases is whether the deadly weapon enhancement applies. In other words, did the individual possess or use a deadly weapon during commission of the crime.
For purposes of this sentencing enhancement, a deadly weapon can be a firearm (loaded or unloaded), a deadly weapon or some other weapon capable of causing serious bodily injury. If the enhancement applies, the individual’s potential sentence could be much greater, and by how much depends on whether a deadly weapon was possessed versus used during the crime.
Possessing a deadly weapon means having the weapon on the individual’s person (body) or within their immediate possession (i.e., in the car next to them or in their backpack).
Using a deadly weapon means engaging in conduct with the weapon that threatens or injures another person (i.e., waving or firing a gun).
Under the deadly weapon enhancement matrix for possession or use, the sentencing range increases from the basic sentencing guidelines. Use of a deadly weapon results in a higher sentencing range than possession of a deadly weapon.
Here’s an example:
Under the basic guidelines, a first time offense of possession with intent to deliver cocaine over 1,000 grams would have an OGS of 13 (with no prior convictions or other aggravating factors). The minimum sentencing range as indicated above would be 60-78 months in prison.
Under the matrix for possession and use of a deadly weapon, the minimum sentencing range increases from 60-78 months to 69-87 months (possession of a deadly weapon) or 78-96 months (use of a deadly weapon).
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Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines
*Download the PA Sentencing Guidelines PDF current as of 2018
- 303.1. Sentencing guidelines standards.
- 303.2. Procedure for determining the guideline sentence.
- 303.3. Offense Gravity Score—general.
- 303.4. Prior Record Score—categories.
- 303.5. Prior Record Score—prior convictions.
- 303.6. Prior Record Score—prior juvenile adjudications.
- 303.7. Prior Record Score—guideline points scoring.
- 303.8. Prior Record Score—miscellaneous.
- 303.9. Guideline sentence recommendation: general.
- 303.10. Guideline sentence recommendations: enhancements.
- 303.11. Guideline sentence recommendation: sentencing levels.
- 303.12. Guideline sentence recommendations: sentencing programs.
- 303.13. Guideline sentence recommendations: aggravated and mitigated circumstances.
- 303.14. Guideline sentence recommendations—economic sanctions.
- 303.15. Offense Listing.
- 303.16(a). Basic Sentencing Matrix.
- 303.16(b). Basic Sentencing Matrix for Offenders Under Age 18 Convicted of 1st or 2nd Degree Murder.
- 303.17(a). Deadly Weapon Enhancement/Possessed Matrix.
- 303.17(b). Deadly Weapon Enhancement/Used Matrix.
- 303.18(a). Youth Enhancement Matrix.
- 303.18(b). School Enhancement Matrix.
- 303.18(c). Youth and School Enhancement Matrix