A NO to HB 1590 is a NO to Mandatory Minimum Sentences and A Yes to Criminal Sentencing Reform

HB 1590 is a proposed bill in the Pennsylvania Legislature that would require sentencing judges to impose mandatory minimum sentences — removing their discretion and enlarging our criminal justice system.

By: Ian L. Courts, Esq.

Inside the Pennsylvania Legislature, specifically the Pennsylvania House of Representatives chamber.

Presently before the Pennsylvania Legislature is a bill that would require judges to impose mandatory minimum sentences in a select number of cases. These cases include misdemeanor crimes and felonies — from alleged violent threats to aggravated assaults, violations of the uniform firearms act, and even simply having a prior criminal record. That bill is HB 1590! This bill binds the hands of the sentencing judge and, by effect, the Commonwealth to impose and recommend fair sentences by requiring mandatory minimum sentencing for misdemeanors and felonies.

Mandatory minimum sentences are sentences designed to restrict the trial judge’s discretion by requiring them to impose a minimum sentence in compliance with statutory sentencing schemes. Mandatory minimums were imposed to respond to what was seen as a rampant increase in criminal activity and the need for punishment and deterrence of similar crimes. Mandatory minimums compel a mandatory active sentence that a judge must impose, and a criminal defendant has to serve. The imposition of mandatory minimum sentences disproportionately impacted many African Americans. See generally Stephen J. Schulhofer, Rethinking Mandatory Minimums, 28 Wake Forest L. Rev. 199 (1993).

HB 1590 specifically requires the sentencing judge and, in effect, the Commonwealth to impose a minimum sentence “no less than the standard range of the sentencing guidelines.” (Line 25–26, pg. 2). Moreover, this bill allows very little room for deviation or a non-punitive sentence by requiring “at a minimum five years or [the recommended guideline sentencing range], whichever is less” for the crimes of attempt, solicitation, conspiracy for crimes of violence, and violations of the uniform firearms act. (Line 24–30, pg. 2). Additionally, the bill requires judges to deviate from the standard sentence only for “substantial and compelling” reasons. The bill further limits the judge’s ability under a deviation to the imposition of a “sentence within the shortest range of the mitigated guidelines or four years.” This provision would apply to persons with a previous criminal history or those alleged to have used verbal threats or violence in the commission of their alleged crime. (Lines 14–30, pg. 3 & Lines 1–24, pg. 4). Essentially, This bill promotes penalization over justice and arbitrary statutory standards over comprehensive, just, and thorough sentencing recommendations.

As I stated in my essay, Pass the Plea: Black Progressive Prosecutors & The Opportunity to Reform the American Plea System, “mandatory minimums have disproportionately impacted Black and poor communities. The imposition of mandatory minimums contributes to mass incarceration and the proliferation of racial bias in sentencing.” Simply, mandatory minimum sentences do not deter crime and further exasperates disparities in our criminal justice system. HB 1590 would significantly impact communities of color, lower-socio economic neighborhoods, and immigrant persons, which could be a potential reason it was proposed. HB 1590 promotes Penalty over Justice!

Pennsylvania, contact your local legislators and demand they vote “no” on HB 1590.