Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Guidelines in Pennsylvania

An Overview of Pennsylvania’s Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Guidelines

Criminal SentencingLike other states, Pennsylvania has implemented mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for a wide range of criminal offenses. When in place, these measures set a floor for the fines or jail time assessed for specific crimes. A judge may not impose a penalty of less than that set forth in the statutes, regardless of age, prior criminal record or other circumstances. Technically, the judge can reject a minimum sentence as unfair, but in practice it rarely, if ever, happens. The only party with any discretion to reduce potential sanctions is the district attorney, who can opt not to ask for adherence to minimum sentencing requirements.

Though Pennsylvania enforces the death penalty, the minimum sentencing guidelines never mandate that punishment. However, for many crimes of violence, the minimum penalty is either life imprisonment or the death penalty, at the discretion of the judge.

Some of the more notable minimum sentencing requirements include:

  • Two or Three Strikes — for violations that qualify under the state laws, the penalty for conviction of a second offense is a minimum of 10 years. For a third offense, the judge has the discretion to order life imprisonment or a minimum of 25 years
  • Drug crimes — Drug crimes in drug free school zones have minimum penalties of two to four years. Drug offenses committed with firearms require life imprisonment.
  • Sex crimes — Sex offenses generally carry a minimum sentence of five years or more. Rape carries a minimum 10 year sentence and repeat convictions for a Megan’s Law offense require 25 years or life imprisonment. Failure to register as a sex offender can lead to two to seven years mandatory, based on the level of the sexual offense.

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