Penn Supreme Court Scraps Mandatory Minimum Sentences for School Zone Drug Deals

By McCarton Ackerman 06/23/15

The decision has triggered an outcry from officials across the state.

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As several states across the country ponder how to address mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court took a surprising step by eliminating mandatory minimums for dealing drugs in a “school zone.”

The 3-2 ruling could potentially affect thousands of cases across the state. Anyone previously convicted under mandatory minimum laws in Pennsylvania will now likely be eligible to receive a revised sentence under post-conviction relief, meaning that some people who are currently incarcerated for this crime could be released immediately.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan slammed the Supreme Court’s ruling, and said that mandatory sentences need to be restored for gun crimes and other violent offenses.

“[The ruling] will eliminate nearly all our mandatory sentencing in Pennsylvania, not just for school zone offenses, but for other drug offenses and mandatory sentences for violent offenses,” he said in a statement. “We will continue to ask our courts to impose aggravated sentences in all gun cases and other violent offenses in order to keep dangerous criminals behind bars and ensure the safety of Delaware County residents.”

Last week, Chester County Court of Common Pleas Judge Anthony A. Sarcione ruled that the mandatory minimum sentence imposed on Jarrod Lawson for dealing drugs near a school was unconstitutional. He wrote that provisions of the state statute were unconstitutional, yet still so intertwined with constitutional portions of the law that the two couldn’t be “severed” without judicial intervention. This would ultimately overstep the bounds of the separation of powers.

Kevin Wray, an attorney for the town of Media, explained that “the courts cannot rewrite statutes, so unless a statute is severable (i.e., you cross out the parts that are unconstitutional), the courts must invalidate the entire law.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.