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    Philadelphia Criminal Law in Drug Cases – PA Supreme Court Strikes Drug Sentencing Law (June 2015)

    Last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court put to rest a major constitutional issue in Philadelphia criminal drug cases—the issue of enhanced sentencing factors, such as the drug-free zone sentencing law and the gun possession sentencing law. See Commonwealth v. Hopkins (June 15, 2015).

    However, this isn’t the first time a court in Pennsylvania has found the drug-free school zone sentencing law unconstitutional. Late last year in Commonwealth v. Bizzel, the PA Superior Court held that application of the drug-free school zone law in that case was unconstitutional. Read more about that case here.

    About PA’s Sentence Enhancing Laws in Drug Cases

    Under these sentence enhancing laws, individuals charged with drug possession/drug dealing crimes face lengthy mandatory minimum prison sentences, if certain triggering facts are proved, i.e., selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school zone or possessing a firearm during a drug sale.

    Under the current versions of these laws, the sentencing judge must be satisfied that the prosecution has proved these factors, and the standard of proof is quite low. These laws require the prosecution to prove these factors by a preponderance of the evidence, the lowest evidentiary standard under the law.

    This scheme was turned on its head after the United States Supreme Court held that sentence enhancing facts must be submitted to the jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt, the same standard applied to the elements of the crime (Alleyne v. U.S., 2013).

    After the Alleyne case was handed down, prosecutors throughout PA tried to apply the sentence enhancing laws by simply adding the fact to jury verdict slips. Some judges allowed this practice which is now unconstitutional under the recent Hopkins case. The Hopkins court held that special verdict slips do not cure the constitutional defects of the sentence enhancing laws. In addition, the court held that the law could not be saved by applying the principle of severability. Under this principle, unconstitutional sections of laws can be severed from the constitutional ones, thus saving the law. Despite strong dissents arguing otherwise, the court struck the law down. Now, the Pennsylvania legislature must cure the defect by rewriting the laws.

    More: Arrested for Drugs in Pennsylvania? Read About PA’s Mandatory Minimum Sentences

    Philadelphia Drug Charge Lawyer – FREE CONSULTATIONS

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    David S. Nenner

    "Top Rated Criminal Defense Lawyer"

    Not guilty on 1st Degree MURDER CHARGE (dec. 2022, Pottsville, Pa)

    Mr. Nenner's client faced first degree murder, third degree murder and various other charges. The Commonwealth alleged that Mr. Whitted stabbed and killed a driver after an incident at a red light in West Brunswick Township. Throughout the trial, Mr. Nenner argued...

    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...


    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...


    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...


    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 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.