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On October 20th, 2014, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a law changing the way courts handle prior drunk driving (DUI) convictions at sentencing.

In Pennsylvania, you face harsher punishments if you have prior DUI convictions.  Before the change, prior DUI convictions only led to an increased punishment if the defendant was convicted of the prior DUI before committing the new offense.  With the change in the law, any DUI conviction that exists at the time of sentencing will lead to an increased punishment.  By changing the law, the General Assembly invalidated the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling in Commonwealth v. Haag.  Governor Tom Corbett approved the law, which took effect immediately, on October 27th, 2014.

For more information, go to:

Senate Bill 1239 of 2014: “An Act amending Title 75 (Vehicles) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in licensing of drivers, further providing for occupational limited license; in driving after imbibing alcohol or utilizing drugs, further providing for grading and for prior offenses; and, in enforcement, further providing for reports by courts.”

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Commonwealth v. Patrick A. Haag, Sr  J-41-2009 (10/23/2009)

Topic: DUI - Prior Offenses

Summary: For a DUI offense to be a second or subsequent conviction for sentencing purposes, the offender must be convicted of the prior offense before committing the second or subsequent offense.

http://www.aopc.org/OpPosting/Supreme/out/J-41-2009mo.pdf

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Commonwealth v. Harry Galendez 2009 PA Super 185 (9/16/2009)

Topic: Defendant’s Right to be Present – Parole and Probation Searches

Summary: 1.) The defendant and his counsel have the right to be present at every crucial stage of the trial process, including the issuing of probationary conditions. 2.) Searches made as a condition of parole or probation must be supported by reasonable suspicion. Additionally, the trial court may not make any parole or probation conditions for any sentence that would subject the defendant to the supervision of the State Board of Probation and Parole.

http://www.pacourts.us/OpPosting/Superior/out/a15016_09.pdf

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Commonwealth v. Christina Marie Houtz 2009 PA Super 186 (9/16/2009)

Topic: Terms of Probation – Undue Restrictions

Summary: A probationary restriction must be reasonably tied to the illegal act. Therefore, where a defendant was not accused of using the Internet to commit her offense, the trial court is not justified in prohibiting Internet usage as a term of probation.

http://www.pacourts.us/OpPosting/Superior/out/s23028_09.pdf

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Commonwealth v. Madeira 2009 PA Super 180 (9/14/1009)

Topic: Sentencing – Mandatory Minimum

Summary: When a statute uses the language “not less than,” the sentence referred to must be interpreted to be a mandatory minimum.

http://www.pacourts.us/OpPosting/Superior/out/s37026_09.pdf

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Debra Erdley reports in the Sunday, August 23, 2009 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that while “tough on crime” laws have served to increase prison populations, there has been no corresponding decrease in the crime rate. According to State Senator Stewart Greenleaf, the harsh penalties he and fellow legislators enacted served to punish non-violent offenders more severely, but statistics indicate that crime in Pennsylvania has not decreased. As a result of mandatory sentences for drug offenders and other harsh sentencing schemes, roughly half of Pennsylvania’s prison population consists of “non-violent offenders and mentally ill inmates.”

The article also points out that the general public holds an overly simplistic view of crime and punishment and are too easily swayed by the belief that incarceration is the ideal solution to crime problems.

For more information, go to:

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/regional/s_639625.html#

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Commonwealth v. Daniel J. Schmohl 2009 PA Super 97 (5/26/2009)

Topic: DUI – Merger of Offenses

Summary: Driving Under the Influence (DUI) with a high rate of alcohol is a lesser included offense of Aggravated Assault while Driving Under the Influence. Therefore, the offenses merge for sentencing purposes.

http://www.pacourts.us/OpPosting/Superior/out/A06009_09.pdf

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Commonwealth v. Syvol Bowen 2009 PA Super 94 (5/21/2009)

Topic: Sentencing – Fifth Amendment Right to Remain Silent

Summary: A sentencing court may not use a defendant’s silence as its sole reason for enhancing a sentence. Additionally, a sentencing court may not use a defendant’s silence at a sentencing hearing as a proof that the defendant does not take responsibility for the offense.

http://www.pacourts.us/OpPosting/Superior/out/a04028_08.pdf

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Commonwealth v. Matthew Wayne Dietrich J-61-2009 (5/27/2009)

Topic: Restitution – Amending a Restitution Order

Summary: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that a restitution order that sets an amount of restitution and states that the order is subject to later modification is not invalid. Further, under 18 Pa.C.S.A. Section 1106(c)(3), a court may modify restitution at any time, but the reasons for the modification must be stated on the record.

http://www.pacourts.us/OpPosting/Supreme/out/J-61-2009mo.pdf

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Commonwealth v. Mears 2009 PA Super 83 (5/04/2009)

Topic: Sentencing Conditions – Random Searches as a Condition of Probation or Parole

Summary: The Superior Court reversed and remanded where the trial court made random residence searches a condition of Mears’ sentence. The sentence was invalid because 1.) Mears was not sentenced to probation and 2.) Mears’ was given a state sentence, therefore, the sentencing court could not usurp the power of the State Parole Board by giving parole conditions.

http://www.pacourts.us/OpPosting/Superior/out/a04025_09.pdf

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