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Sentencing Reductions in PA

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It is always possible to obtain a sentence below the mitigated range sentence in PA.  However, there must be qualifying reasons for the court to so deviate.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Criminal Defense Lawyer, Harrisburg, PA

When discussing the possibility of a sentence for a criminal defendant, there are always some things I tend to focus upon for the benefit of my client.  Those items center around the client's environment, employment history, educational background, treatment needs and efforts taken, family, and military history, if any.

Although the sentencing court is required to consider and consult the sentencing guidelines when imposing a sentence, it retains the discretion to sentence below the mitigated range as long as it clearly explains its reasons for doing so.  (See my prior article about the sentencing guidelines in PA).  A downward departure from the sentencing guidelines may be proper where the defendant is from a stable family, responds well to treatment, has restricted intelligence and an extremely weak ego structure so that incarceration would exacerbate the defendant's problems, has a child, and has remorse and fear of losing custody that would be a sufficient deterrent to future crimes. 

Improper reasons, as suggested by prior appellate court decisions, for a downward departure from the sentencing guidelines include-

  • the sentencing court's indication in its post sentence statement supporting its departure from the sentencing guidelines that it felt powerless to supervise the defendant's drug treatment if the defendant were placed in a state prison.
  • the lack of aggravating factors.
  • the trial court's general, nonspecific references to the defendant's "accomplishments."
  • the assault victim's statement that she did not want the defendant to receive further jail time, given that the victim's statement was the product of intimidation and the sentencing court was aware of the intimidation.
  • the defendant's history of mental health treatment and the presentence-investigation investigator's opinion that he was in need of further treatment.
  • the defendant's boilerplate statements of regret.
  • the fact that the assault victims did not require medical attention.
  • the fact that the defendant had only one 13-year-old violent crime on his criminal record, especially where the record reflected a history of other felonies.
  • the court's explanation that the appellee was under the influence of drugs and alcohol during the commission of the crime and that the appellee was making good progress in overcoming dependencies where the record did not support this explanation.

The mere fact that the defendant pleads guilty to charged offenses does not alone justify a dramatic departure from the mitigated-range sentence under the sentencing guidelines.  However, the court will likely view the acceptance of responsibility, contrition and treatment efforts prior to sentencing with favor.

If you have questions regarding a crime and a possible sentence you are facing, you should consult counsel.  You may contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today regarding your case.

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