A prominent Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney recently agreed to give up his law license to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court so that he can deal with drug addiction issues. The lawyer's addiction to drugs was brought to light after he was arrested for selling prescription drugs to an undercover detective and charged with Drug Delivery and Possession With Intent to Deliver under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(30). It is alleged that the Montgomery County drug defense lawyer delivered approximately 180 Oxycodone pills to the detective on two separate occasions. This case exemplifies that drug addiction affects people in all walks of life as no one is too smart, too wealthy, or too powerful. Hopefully, the man gets the help that he needs and is able to put his life back together.
Severe Sentences for Drug Delivery Charges
Not only has he surrendered his law license, the former defense lawyer is likely to lose his freedom as well. A Pennsylvania charge of delivery or possession with intent to deliver Oxycodone pills carries a maximum sentence of 15 years incarceration and a $250,000.00 fine. If the man is convicted of the two drug distribution charges, he faces a recommended minimum sentencing range of 22 to 36 months incarceration in a state correctional facility.
Aside from the recommended minimum sentences, the man may also face a mandatory minimum sentence on each drug delivery charge. Under the "drug trafficking" law at 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 7508, people that are convicted of drug delivery or possession with intent to deliver larger quantities of drugs may be subject to mandatory sentences of incarceration and fines. In this case, given the number of Oxycodone pills involved, the weights of the drugs would be at least 10 grams and less than 100 grams, which would subject the man to a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years incarceration and a $15,000.00 fine for the first offense and 5 year in jail and a $30,000.00 fine for the second delivery.
Are Pennsylvania Drug Mandatory Minimum Sentences Constitutional?
Under current Pennsylvania law as written, mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, like drug trafficking or the drug-free school zone, are discretionary with the prosecutor's office. This means that a prosecutor can waive application of the mandatory sentences when they deem it to be appropriate. The Centre County District Attorney routinely threatens to use the drug free school zone mandatory sentencing law as leverage in plea negotiations in State College drug delivery cases.
The good news for this man is that at least two counties in Pennsylvania have recently held that the Pennsylvania mandatory minimums sentences for drug offenses are unconstitutional. One judge in Chester County held that the school zone law was unconstitutional, and all the Lycoming County judges ruled that both the drug free school zone and drug trafficking laws were unconstitutional. The problem with the laws is that they allow the prosecutor to present the issue to a judge at sentencing, and the prosecutor must only prove the issue by a preponderance of the evidence. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that mandatory minimum sentences must be presented to a jury and proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The Pennsylvania mandatory sentencing laws as written clearly violate what the U.S. Supreme Court has stated is required. While two counties have ruled that the laws are unconstitutional, those rulings are not binding on other judges in other counties. A Centre County judge is currently considering the constitutionality of the drug free school zone law. Until the Superior Court issues a precedential opinion on the issue, every county gets to make its own ruling. I do expect that the Superior Court will be reviewing the issue in the near future, and whatever decision is made is likely to be appealed by the losing party to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. I suspect that the Pennsylvania legislature is also working on revisions to the mandatory sentencing laws to bring them into conformance with the constitutional mandates issued by the U.S. Supreme Court.