Question: I was arrested for dealing drugs in Philadelphia. What is the maximum sentence I face?
Answer: In Pennsylvania criminal drug cases, the possible mandatory sentence will depend on proof of certain facts, such as:
- whether a gun was found within the vicinity of the drugs,
- the type and amount of the drugs, and
- where the transactions allegedly occurred.
For example, selling drugs near a school zone may result in a mandatory 2 year (up to 4 year) prison sentence, as well as large court fines and costs.
Related: Arrested for Drugs in Pennsylvania? Read About PA’s Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Below are some common criminal sentencing laws which come into play in a criminal state court drug case in Philadelphia:
- 18 Pa.C.S. Section 6317 (drug-free school zone sentencing law)
- 18 Pa.C.S. Section 6314 (selling drugs to minors)
- 42 Pa.C.S. Section 9712.1 (firearm sentencing enhancement law)
Pennsylvania criminal law was changed in a significant way this past year. As the result of a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case, Alleyne v. United States, sentencing factors must now be submitted to the fact finder, i.e., the jury in a jury trial or the judge in a court trial and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, when a mandatory minimum sentence is under consideration, the Commonwealth (District Attorney) is now required to prove the element triggering the mandatory minimum sentence beyond a reasonable doubt.
More: Philadelphia Criminal Drug Charges, Suppressing Drug Evidence & Incriminating Statements
For instance, in a firearm drug case involving a mandatory minimum sentence under Section 9712.1, the relevant sentencing factor is defined in subsection (a), which states:
“when at the time of the offense the person or the person’s accomplice is in physical possession or control of a firearm, whether visible, concealed about the person or the person’s accomplice or within the actor’s or accomplice’s reach or in close proximity to the controlled substance…”
This basically means that there must be evidence of the following:
- the defendant or an accomplice possessed a gun,
- a gun was in close proximity to the defendant/accomplice, or
- a gun was in close proximity to the drugs.
Prior to the Alleyne case, Pennsylvania courts only required that these types of sentencing factors be proved at sentencing and by a preponderance of the evidence, a far lower standard than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. As a result of the Alleyne case, the Commonwealth is required to prove these factors beyond a reasonable doubt. Failure to do so results in violation of a criminal defendant’s 14th Amendment (due process) and 6th Amendment (jury trial) rights.
Facing Drug Charges in Philadelphia? Get a Free Case Review
David S. Nenner is an experienced criminal defense lawyer who focuses on handling drug, gun and murder cases in the Philadelphia area. Learn more about our drugs and narcotics practice in Pennsylvania. If you or a loved one would like a free case review, please call (215) 564-0644.
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