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MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES MUST BE RESTORED TO KEEP VIOLENT CRIMINALS OFF THE STREETS

Prosecutors, law enforcement, families and PA’s top victim advocate call on Senate to take action on HB 741

Harrisburg, PA —Prosecutors, law enforcement, victims, victims’ families, and victims’ advocates called on the state Senate to protect Pennsylvania’s communities by taking action on a bill that would restore mandatory minimum sentences for violent offenders.

House Bill 741 passed the House by a vote of a vote of 122-67 on April 5, 2017. A similar bill passed the House last session but was never brought to a vote in the state Senate.

“For years, mandatory minimum sentencing worked to get and keep dangerous criminals off the street,” said PDAA President and Lebanon County District Attorney David J. Arnold, Jr. “The lack of mandatories is hurting us in prosecutions, preventing us from incarcerating violent convicts for an appropriate length of time and preventing the criminal justice system from providing more certainty and closure to victims and their families. We are asking the Senate to take up H.B. 741 to help lessen the risk to our communities.”

In 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down many of Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing statutes because they did not require the Commonwealth to prove the elements triggering the sentence beyond a reasonable doubt. H.B. 741, a bill sponsored by Pennsylvania State Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery/Bucks) addresses this technical issue and restores this important law enforcement tool in cases such as committing a crime of violence with a firearm, raping a child, assaulting an elderly person, selling drugs while in possession of a firearm, possessing a weapon of mass destruction, failing to register as a sexual offender and dealing large quantities of drugs.

“We need as a Commonwealth to send a clear message to our most vulnerable victims that the crimes committed against them are too heinous to not have a mandatory minimum sentence,” said Jennifer Storm, Pennsylvania’s victim advocate, noting that certain crimes should have certain justice. “We need to impress upon the offenders and would-be offenders that there is a steep price to pay for preying upon our most vulnerable citizens. We cannot allow the voice taken from the victims by the offenders to be mirrored by silence in our laws.”

A mother who lost her son to drugs echoed Storm’s call for uniformity of sentencing in the most heinous crimes and protecting the citizens of the Commonwealth.

“There is a battle raging and our children are facing it every day,” said Charlene Sciarretta. “We can save our children by fighting for their rights – for their lives. We need to get drug dealers off our streets. And make no mistake, anyone involved in drug trafficking will be prosecuted and held accountable. HB 741 will make sure this happens.”

Just last week, a Grand Jury in Montgomery County issued a report on “The Opioid Crisis.” Among its conclusions and recommendations was to restore mandatory minimum sentences for heroin dealers, traffickers and suppliers. The report states: “This epidemic knows no politics. Our legislature should support these public safety efforts and pass legislation necessary to hold those accountable who deal and supply heroin and substances like Fentanyl.”

The mandatory minimum sentences restored in H.B. 741 are meant to incarcerate offenders whom a jury of their peers determines to be a danger to society and a threat to public safety. While H.B. 741 restores the mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes like sexual assault and violent drug crimes associated with drug dealing and trafficking, it would not restore certain low-level drug mandatories.

“When it comes to violent crimes such as rape, crimes committed with firearms and dealing large quantities of drugs, we know that mandatory minimum sentences work,” said Arnold.

Scholarly studies, including those by criminologists James Q. Wilson and Steven Levitt, conclude that longer sentences equate to less crime. Law enforcement and prosecutors in Pennsylvania have seen a difference on the streets and in the courtroom without them.

“Without mandatory minimum sentences, prosecutors, law enforcement and our communities feel the impact,” said Arnold. “Public safety is a core function of government. Even in times when we must stretch the public dollar and find more efficiency in government spending, we must never make sentencing decisions based on costs cutting goals. The cost to our communities, the risk to law enforcement officers and the price we are asking law abiding citizens to pay is much too high.”

Testimony of Ed Marsico Dauphin County District Attorney Legislative Chair, Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association Robert Falin Deputy District Attorney, Appeals Unit Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office Susan Moyer Assistant District Attorney, Appeals Unit Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office Before the Senate Judiciary Committee Public Hearing to Examine DNA Testing and Post-Conviction Relief

Harrisburg, PA Good morning Chairmen Greenleaf and Leach, and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. My name is Ed Marsico, and I am the Legislative Chair for the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and District Attorney of Dauphin County. I am joined today by Bob Falin and Sue Moyer, who respectively head the appeals divisions in the Montgomery County and Lancaster County

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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

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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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