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PDAA Support for HB 741

Pennsylvania’s District Attorneys strongly support HB 741 introduced by Representative Stephens. This legislation is necessary to restore many mandatory minimum sentences in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently struck down some of our mandatory minimum sentencing statutes because they did not require the Commonwealth to prove the elements triggering the sentence beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result, Pennsylvania has very few mandatory minimum sentences to protect our state from violent offenders. HB 741 addresses the Court’s findings and remedies these defects by requiring the fact finder in a trial to determine if the mandatory sentencing elements have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Mandatory minimum sentences work to improve public safety: they help to keep the most dangerous offenders off our streets. They also ensure that defendants who commit similar crimes with similar records receive the same sentences.

The mandatory minimum sentences we support are meant to incarcerate offenders whom a jury of their peers determines to be a danger to society and a threat to public safety. Some of these crimes include: committing a crime of violence with a firearm, raping a child, assaulting an elderly person, dealing drugs while in possession of a firearm, possessing a weapon of mass destruction, failing to register as a sexual offender, or trafficking large quantities of drugs.

Opponents of mandatory minimum sentences often highlight the impact those sentences have on low-level drug or non-violent offenders. This legislation would not restore certain low-level drug mandatories and actually reduces the length of many mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana and cocaine. We believe this approach to certain drug-related mandatories is appropriate and illustrates a fair balance.

Should a person who rapes a child get a short sentence in state prison? Should a person who breaks into a private residence and terrorizes the people inside with a firearm get a county prison sentence? Should a person selling meth while in possession of a firearm receive a short sentence in county prison? Should an individual trafficking heroin in our neighborhoods walk away with mere probation? Until HB 741 is enacted, they all can receive—and some have received—generously light sentences.

Some opponents of the legislation have bemoaned the potential fiscal impact the bill would have. The moment the Commonwealth bases public safety decisions primarily on fiscal grounds is the moment that our citizens and communities become incredibly less secure and less safe.

The DOC contends that there is no evidence that mandatory minimum sentences work. Police officers who put their lives on the line every day to keep heroin dealers from selling poison to our kids would disagree; assistant district attorneys who have begun to see sentences in violent cases decrease, even below the Sentencing Guideline ranges, would disagree; and victims of violent crime, who have no assurance that the person that committed a horrific act against them will be incarcerated for an appropriate amount of time, would disagree.

Indeed, scholarly studies, including those by criminologists James Q. Wilson and Steven Levitt, conclude that longer sentences equate to less crime. And we can tell you from experience, from being on the front lines every day as we try to keep our communities safe and remove violent and dangerous criminals from our streets and protect our victims of violent crimes, that mandatory minimum sentences keep our neighborhoods safer and protect the public.

We ask you to support law enforcement and victims of crime and help to ensure that dangerous offenders receive the appropriate sentences their illegal acts warrant by supporting HB 741, a balanced and appropriate piece of legislation.

Sincerely,

David J. Arnold, Jr.
President, Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association

PDAA Blog Post: Being Smart on Crime Means Being Tough on Violent Offenders

By Greg Rowe, Chief of the Legislation and Policy Unit. Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. Our General Assembly continues with its important task of conducting appropriations hearings, where state agencies and other entities appear before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to discuss their budgetary needs.  During this process, substantive questions about their operations and about larger policy issues are often raised

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Statute of Limitations Reform

SB 261 includes meaningful and significant steps, supported by PDAA, to reform our child abuse-related statutes of limitations. Most significant, SB 261 will eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for many sexual offenses committed against a child.  For many reasons, young victims of rape and other sexual assaults do not always report to law enforcement or to anyone, including loved ones,

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PDAA Blog Post: Save a Life – Stay Alive: Treatment a Must After Naloxone

By District Attorney David Freed (Cumberland County) and District Attorney John Adams (Berks County) A recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer detailed bipartisan efforts to enact legislation that will expand the involuntary commitment process to include those who are drug addicted.  The article highlighted two outstanding legislators working on different proposals:  Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa and House Health Committee Chair

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PDAA Blog Post: Mid-Winter Meeting Highlights Importance of Continuing Education

Author: Mike Piecuch The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) Annual Mid-Winter Meeting takes place this week in Pittsburgh.  Our training and education committee has planned a full range of training sessions focused on trial advocacy and ethics.  Every prosecutor has sworn an oath to uphold the high ethical and professional standards required of the office, so the training and support this

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Testimony of David Freed Cumberland County District Attorney Communications Chair, Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association Before the Senate Policy and Judiciary Committees Public Hearing on the Proposed State Correctional Institution Closures

Harrisburg, PA- My name is Dave Freed, and I am the District Attorney of Cumberland County and the Chair of the Communications Committee for the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. On behalf of my colleagues, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you this morning. For district attorneys, the salient issue surrounding the proposed prison closures is public safety. We must therefore

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Pennsylvania’s Prosecutors on Prison Closings: Public Safety Must Come First

HARRISBURG, PA – The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association will respond to Governor Tom Wolf’s proposal to close two state prisons tomorrow, saying that general budget deficits must not compromise public safety and that before the state moves forward with the proposal all aspects of the closures on public safety must be carefully scrutinized. “Public safety must come first,” said PDAA Communications

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PDAA Blog Post: Stand with PA Law Enforcement after Police Shooting

Author: DA Dave Freed (Cumberland County) As most of us were celebrating the New Year, our state law enforcement officers were recovering from a different sort of holiday weekend. One of their own, Pennsylvania State Trooper Landon Weaver, of Blair County – did not get the chance to see the New Year. He was gunned down in the line of duty

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PDAA Blog Post: Fewer Funerals, More Intervention-Pennsylvania Naloxone Program Turns Two

Two years ago today, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association in conjunction with statewide agencies and law enforcement announced a game change in our approach to combatting Pennsylvania’s opioid crisis: we began to supply local police departments with naloxone, a resuscitation medication that reverses the effects of overdose emergencies. Since then, naloxone intervention has saved over 2,100 lives across our state,

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PA District Attorneys Recommend Independent Investigations of Officer Involved Shootings PDAA Issues First in the Nation Best Practices Guidelines for Police Shootings

HARRISBURG, PA -- The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) today recommended that officer-involved shootings should be investigated by an independent agency and that the local District Attorney should provide the public with a written report following the completion of the investigation. The recommendations are part of 16 guidelines established by association’s Best Practices Committee dealing with processing, investigating and communicating

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