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While judges have a lot of discretion when sentencing someone found guilty of a crime, they must consider the sentencing guidelines in Pennsylvania when making their decision. While each case has unique circumstances, your criminal defense lawyer will likely account for certain factors when explaining your range of potential penalties before your sentencing hearing.
Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimum laws, and similar cases handled by the same judge all give your legal team a good idea of your case’s outcome. Your attorney can also compare the likely consequences of different charges when negotiating a plea deal based on their understanding of potential outcomes.
Understanding Mandatory Minimums and When They Apply
Most mandatory minimums no longer exist in Pennsylvania, removed by appeals to a higher court. However, some remain for specific offenses or offenders who repeatedly engage in particularly violent crimes. These are commonly known as “strike” crimes because they count as a strike under the commonwealth’s three-strikes law:
- Aggravated assault, robbery, and burglary charges when they are repeated and have a certain set of facts (“strikes”)
- Sexual crimes against children
- Repeat sex crimes
Some examples of mandatory minimums that remain on the books in Pennsylvania include:
- Firearms crimes: Those who use a firearm to commit a violent crime will receive a minimum sentence of five years in prison under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9712.
- Two strikes law: For a second violent crime conviction, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9714 mandates a sentence of at least 10 years behind bars.
- Three strikes law: Under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9714, a person must serve at least 25 years behind bars if they already have two or more violent crimes on their record.
When a mandatory minimum applies to your charges, your attorney will discuss this with you, and it could play an essential role in your case strategy. For example, if your case involves a potential second-strike conviction, your best option is to get the charges dismissed or reduced to a lesser crime.
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Following the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines Requires Complicated Calculations
While not required to follow them, all judges must consider the Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines when sentencing an offender. The calculations required by 204 Pa. Code § 303 to determine a sentencing range can be complicated by what they take into account. However, both the court and your attorney will need to determine these guidelines in your case.
While federal and commonwealth judges must consider the applicable guidelines, they have the discretion to sentence the offender outside of them. However, the sentence generally falls somewhere close to the range stipulated by the guidelines, making them an excellent way to estimate the punishment you may face if convicted.
According to the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, the guidelines calculation includes two factors:
- The severity of the offense, known as the offense gravity score
- The individual’s criminal history, called the prior record score
Then, the judge has three factors to help them determine a minimum sentence:
- A standard range for crimes with usual circumstances
- An aggravated range when aggravating factors increase the severity of the crime
- A mitigated range when mitigating circumstances reduce the severity of the crime
If the judge wants to hand down a sentence outside of these guidelines, they must provide reasons sufficient to avoid appeals and other challenges to the case’s outcome.
What does a Judge Consider in Sentencing?
Many factors could affect the sentence a person receives after a conviction. They vary from case to case but generally include:
- The severity of the crime
- Whether anyone suffered serious injuries
- The offender’s prior criminal record
- The offender’s actions, such as completing drug rehabilitation or following other conditions of their pretrial release
- The defendant’s job and community support
- The defendant’s character
- The defendant’s past traumas or accomplishments
While the only factors considered by mandatory minimum and sentencing guidelines are the type of crime and history of previous convictions, many other aspects could affect how a judge sees your case. Your attorney can help you build a compelling argument for a reduced sentence based on these other factors.
Your Attorney Can Help You Fight for a Reduced Sentence
Every case a defense lawyer handles is different. A criminal defense attorney has many tools available to help you get your case dismissed. However, how they approach your case depends significantly on the details of what happened and the evidence against you. It may be possible to:
- Never face charges
- Win at the preliminary hearing and have the case dismissed
- Get the charges dismissed through pretrial motions
- Secure a not-guilty verdict at trial
When a prosecutor has compelling evidence in a case, these outcomes are unlikely. However, that does not mean you can’t secure a better result. Moreover, even if your lawyer recognizes they are unlikely to win a case, they have options:
- Negotiating a plea deal could allow you to face lesser charges. For example, agreeing to enter a guilty plea for aggravated assault could carry half the sentence you might receive if found guilty of attempted murder.
- Sentencing deals are also possible. Your lawyer may negotiate with the prosecutors to exchange a guilty plea for receiving a reduced sentence.
Your attorney will know how to manage your case in a way that offers you the best chance at serving as little time behind bars as possible or helping you get another positive outcome in your case.
Discuss Your Pennsylvania Criminal Case With Our Team Today
At the Law Offices of M.J. Snyder, LLC, we provide free consultations for those who need a criminal defense attorney. We can help if you or a loved one faces criminal charges or has been arrested or questioned for a crime. Call today to get started.