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

Supreme Court PABy Burt Rose

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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has issued a decision in the matter of COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Rudolph FIELDS, Appellee, #18 EAP 2013, 2014 WL 7404548 (Dec. 31, 2014), an appeal from the Superior Court, No. 3075 EDA 2009, 29 A.3d 847, vacating/remanding a Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division of Philadelphia County, CP–51–CR–1102011–2003 and CP–51–CR–1102031–2003. Justice (now Chief Justice) Saylor wrote the Opinion for the Court. Only Justice Baer dissented.

 

The Court had to consider whether sentences for multiple crimes of violence committed in the same criminal episode are each subject to statutory enhancement, where the sentences are governed by the second-strike provision of Pennsylvania’s recidivist sentencing statute.

 

The Appellee committed four crimes of violence in a single criminal episode in 2002, ten years after pleading guilty to two other crimes of violence in 1992. The trial court considered Appellee to be a second-strike offender four times over, pursuant to the second-strike offender portion of the recidivism statute, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9714(a)(1), which provides:

 

Any person who is convicted in any court of this Commonwealth of a crime of violence shall, if at the time of the commission of the current offense the person had previously been convicted of a crime of violence, be sentenced to a minimum sentence of at least ten years of total confinement, notwithstanding any other provision of this title or other statute to the contrary.

 

The trial court thus sentenced the Appellee to four consecutive second-strike mandatory minimum sentences of ten to twenty years of incarceration for each of the four crimes of violence (40 to 80 years in the aggregate), in addition to consecutive terms of incarceration for related offenses, resulting in a total sentence of confinement of 45 1/2 to 91 years.

The Supreme Court held that Section 9714(a)(1) requires that a second-strike offender be sentenced to the prescribed minimum term of incarceration for each conviction of a crime of violence that is part of the second strike. Because the law permits multiple second-strike enhancements for each crime of violence, and this is what the common pleas court did in this case, the matter was remanded for reinstatement of the Appellee’s judgment of sentence.

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