FREE CONSULTATIONS

Email or Call (215) 564-0644

    Facing Criminal Charges for Drug Possession or Dealing in Pennsylvania? What to Know about Sentencing Laws

    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.

    Related: Car Searches in Philadelphia Drug/Gun Cases – Legal Rights of the Accused

    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

    Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer - Gun ChargesOne 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).

    Visit our Criminal Drug Law Library for more info or contact us for a FREE CONSULTATION at (215) 546-0644.

    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

    David S. Nenner

    "Top Rated Criminal Defense Lawyer"
    (2015-2022)

    MURDER, Att. Murder CHARGES – Negotiated Significantly Lower prison sentence (Feb. 2022, PHILA)

    Mr. Anderson faced murder and attempted murder charges after an incident in Northeast Philadelphia involving the shooting death of Anderson’s sister’s boyfriend and the boyfriend’s roommate who was shot 5 times and survived. The decedent had previously beaten the...

    Att. MURDER CHARGES – NOT GUILTY JURY VERDICT (April 2022, PHILA)

    The Commonwealth alleged that Mr. Shelton shot and seriously injured a male in a bar in North Philadelphia called Circles. There was video of the shooting which happened outside the bar. However, Mr. Nenner presented witnesses who testified that the person in the bar...

    MURDER, Robbery CHARGES – NOT GUILTY JURY VERDICT (MAY 2021, PHILA)

    Mr. Nenner's client was charged with multiple crimes (murder, conspiracy, aggravated assault, robbery, etc.) after a shooting death occurred at a gambling house in North Philadelphia. At trial, Mr. Nenner successfully presented a self-defense argument and convinced...

    MURDER CHARGE – NOT GUILTY JURY VERDICT (MAY 2021, PHILA)

    Mr. Nenner’s client was charged with murder and gun charges in Philadelphia. The client was accused of shooting and killing another male on Arch Street near the 5600 block of Ithan Street in Philadelphia. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty after deliberating...

    Drug Possession Case – Motion to Suppress Granted

    Mr. Nenner presented evidence that to show that the traffic stop was a pretextual stop. The officer had no reason to pull the car over. The judge agreed and suppressed the evidence. As a result, the prosecution withdrew the charges.

    Drug Charges in Philadelphia PA State Court – Possession of a Controlled Substance

    In most criminal drug cases in Philadelphia, there are two common charges or offenses: Possession of a Controlled Substance and Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver. In addition to these drug charges, there are other drug related charges, such...

    Drug Charges in Philadelphia PA State Court – What is “Possession”

    Page last reviewed and updated: October 20, 2019 One of the most common types of criminal state (PA) cases in Philadelphia is possession of drugs. Possession of a Controlled Substance (PCS) and Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Deliver (PWID) often...

    Pennsylvania Second Degree Murder (AKA: Felony Murder) Law

    Philadelphia criminal lawyer David S. Nenner discusses the current status of second degree murder law in Pennsylvania. This is also known as the felony murder rule. Get info about PA court decisions and the agency theory. Not every case of death during the commission of a felony will result in a second degree murder conviction in PA.

    Philadelphia Murder Cases – Police Investigation Tactics

    Questioning Police Officer Tactics in Philadelphia Murder Cases Within the last 10 years, there have been several murder Philadelphia criminal cases in which the accused individuals were acquitted of the crimes. In these cases, the individuals spent months, if not...

    Murder Charges in Pennsylvania – Murder Law in Pennsylvania

    An explanation of Pennsylvania murder laws including Section 2502. What is murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree and murder in the third degree. Get a summary of the definitions under Pennsylvania criminal law.