A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

 

Scotus plaza

 August 31  

Religious groups and some civil libertarians were often at odds during the last Supreme Court term, but they have found common ground on a religious freedom case that the justices will take up as one of their first orders of business in October.

It involves a quarter-inch of facial hair.

Gregory Houston Holt is an Arkansas prison inmate who is also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad. According to his brief to the court, he feels his Muslim faith requires him to follow this dictate: “Allah’s Messenger said, ‘Cut the moustaches short and leave the beard (as it is).’ 

Click for entire report from the Washington Post

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Session schedule

The House and Senate return to session on September 15.

News item

John Micek:  Five reasons to look forward to fall legislative session

Sentencing Commission

September 3 – Commission on Sentencing strategic planning session- 3 p.m., dinner meeting- 6 p.m. Nittany Lion Inn, 200 West Park Ave., State College.  (formal notice)

September 4 – Commission on Sentencing policy committee meeting- 9 a.m., commission meeting- 9 a.m. Nittany Lion Inn, 200 West Park Ave., State College.  (formal notice)

Public hearing

September 8– Senate Transportation and Judiciary Committees hold a joint hearing on the inadequacy of existing DUI laws.  Millersville University’s Ware Center, Lancaster. 10:30 a.m.

Source:  Crisci Associates PA Capitol Digest

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seal_colorBy Burt Rose

Click for Opinion

Click for Concurring Opinion

Commonwealth v. Lawrence, 2014 WL 4212715, 2014 PA Super 182, August 27, 2014, #2684 EDA 2013, was an appeal from a Judgment of Sentence of Judge Glenn Bronson of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, CP–51–CR–0010239–2011. The case was before Judges BOWES,DONOHUE and MUNDY, who wrote the Opinion.

 

Byshere Lawrence appealed from an aggregate judgment of sentence of 45 years to life imprisonment after he was found guilty of first-degree murder and related offenses. He had agreed in the lower court that he was 15 years old at the time of the crime. The Appellant argued that 18 PaCS Section 1102.1violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause because the statute imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of 35 years to life without giving any consideration to the Appellant’s age and attendant circumstances of youth.  

 

The statute provides in relevant part:

 

  • 1102.1. Sentence of persons under the age of 18 for murder, murder of an unborn child and murder of a law enforcement officer

 

(a) First degree murder.—A person who has been convicted after June 24, 2012, of a murder of the first degree, first degree murder of an unborn child or murder of a law enforcement officer of the first degree and who was under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of the offense shall be sentenced as follows:

 

(1) A person who at the time of the commission of the offense was 15 years of age or older shall be sentenced to a term of life imprisonment without parole, or a term of imprisonment, the minimum of which shall be at least 35 years to life.

 

(2) A person who at the time of the commission of the offense was under 15 years of age shall be sentenced to a term of life imprisonment without parole, or a term of imprisonment, the minimum of which shall be at least 25 years to life.

 

 

Judge Mundy noted that Section 1102.1(d)(7) requires the trial court to consider various age-related factors before the trial court may impose a sentence of life without parole:

 

 

(d) Findings.—In determining whether to impose a sentence of life without parole under subsection (a), the court shall consider and make findings on the record regarding the following:

 

(7) Age-related characteristics of the defendant, including:

 

(i) Age.

 

(ii) Mental capacity.

 

(iii) Maturity.

 

(iv) The degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the defendant.

 

(v) The nature and extent of any prior delinquent or criminal history, including the success or failure of any previous attempts by the court to rehabilitate the defendant.

 

(vi) Probation or institutional reports.

 

(vii) Other relevant factors.

 

 

Because the Eighth Amendment does not categorically prohibit a state from imposing a mandatory minimum imprisonment sentence upon a juvenile convicted of first-degree murder, the Court held that section 1102.1(a)(1) neither violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment nor offends the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012).

 

 

James Lammendola, Esq. represented the Appellant.

 

 

August 26 at 9:30 AM

Last May I noted a recent cert. petition challenging the use of judge-found facts to increase a federal sentence. (The Supreme Court has already said that it is unconstitutional for statutes to rely on judge-found facts to justify a longer sentence; the new question is whether it is also unconstitutional for common-law rules like appellate reasonableness review to do the same thing. I first blogged about the case here.)

I thought I’d post with a short update about the petition. Two amicus briefs were filed in support of the petition — one from the Cato Institute and Rutherford Institute, and one from Professor Douglas Berman, known to all of the blogosphere for his tireless work at Sentencing Law and Policy. The Court asked the government for a response, which is posted here. And the defendants filed a reply. It is distributed for conference at the end of September.a

Click for entire report from the Washington Post

Supreme Court PA

By Burt Rose

Click for Opinion

Click for Dissenting Opinion

In Commonwealth versus Reid, 2014WL4097636, August 20, 2014, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled in an appeal from the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia in a post conviction relief act matter. Justice Todd, writing for the court, held that claims presented in an amended or supplemental PCRA petition which had not received the approval of the lower court pursuant to rule 905A of the rules of criminal procedure will not be considered on appeal even if the PCRA judge addressed those issues on their merits.

Therefore, practitioners must be very careful to obtain leave of court when they file an amended PCRA petition or they will face a waiver of those claims on appeal.

third  circuit

By Burt Rose

Click for Opinion

The United States Court of Appeals for the third circuit has decided the case of United States vs Donohue, 2014 WL 4115949, on August 22, 2014. This was a government appeal from the grant of a motion to suppress by Judge Caputo in the United States District Court for the middle District of Pennsylvania. The panel was composed of judges Ambro, Greenberg and Barry; Judge Greenberg wrote the opinion for the panel. 

The Appellee  was a fugitive. The police arrested him and as he entered his son’s automobile and proceeded to conduct an extensive, continuous and lengthy search until they found a firearm and other evidence. The police had no information whatsoever about the automobile prior to the search. 

The District Court suppressed because the police had no information that the car contained contraband or other evidence of a crime and therefore there was insufficient probable cause even under the automobile exception. 

The Court of Appeals reversed and found probable cause in view of the agent’s “extensive experience with fugitives who are likely to have false identification documents to be found in places where those items are ready and available to gather up and leave quickly, such as their cars.”

This decision reminds me of cases in which narcotics officers successfully testify that it is likely that drugs will be stored inside of a dealer’s home even if there is no information to indicate that such is the case as to that particular residence.

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Session schedule

The House and Senate return to session on September 15.

Sentencing Commission

September 3 – Commission on Sentencing strategic planning session- 3 p.m., dinner meeting- 6 p.m. Nittany Lion Inn, 200 West Park Ave., State College.  (formal notice)

September 4 – Commission on Sentencing policy committee meeting- 9 a.m., commission meeting- 9 a.m.. Nittany Lion Inn, 200 West Park Ave., State College.  (formal notice)

Public hearing

September 8– Senate Transportation and Judiciary Committees hold a joint hearing on the inadequacy of existing DUI laws.  Millersville University’s Ware Center, Lancaster. 10:30 a.m.

News items

Court: Mandatory Minimum Sentences Unconstitutional

Superior Court Frowns On Mandatory Sentencing Law

(Source:  Crisci Associates’ PA Capitol Digest)

Conservative columnist George Will writes about the 50th anniversary of the Criminal Justice Act

Click for story in the Washington Post

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