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Mandatory minimum sentencing bill advances

Although mandatory minimum prison sentences have been falling out of favor across much of the country, the Pennsylvania House is advancing a bill reintroducing them in the state. According to the Morning Call, the bill has yet to be voted on by the State Senate, but did pass the House with a recent vote, although another was scheduled before passing the bill on to the higher chamber. The Senate has previously rejected similar bills, and Gov. Tom Wolf is not in favor of mandatory minimum sentences, so it may never become law.

Mandatory minimum sentences prevent judges from using their own discretion in cases. They became law in Pennsylvania in the 1990s, but have since been struck down federally by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 and by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2015. The new law would reintroduce minimum sentences, as outlined by the court rulings, for drug offenses, failing to follow the correct sex offender registration protocol and for violent crimes against babies and the elderly.

Slate reports that Rep. Todd Stephens, who previously worked as a prosecutor, introduced the bill, which is supported by state district attorneys. However, critics worry that if the bill becomes law it could cost the state millions, and that with a currently overcrowded prison system, this would push prison facilities past their capabilities. Small drug charges or those occurring in school zones would carry a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison, and there would be a five-year minimum sentence to crimes with a gun (real or fake) committed by a repeat violent offender.

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