Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman testified in Harrisburg about the need for restoration of certain mandatory minimum sentences against child rapists, abusers of the elderly, and armed drug dealers.
Most mandatory minimum sentences were eliminated by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2013.
At the Capitol Monday, DA Stedman testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about passing legislation to restore mandatory sentences “targeted” at certain crimes.
“We need that tool back,” Stedman, joined by District Attorneys Edward Marsico (Dauphin County) and Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser (Somerset County) told the panel, “to restore vitality of our neighborhoods.”
The prosecutors, representing the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, stressed that sentencing guidelines currently used by judges are far too lenient, when compared to the previously existing mandatories, in cases of child sex abuse and violent crimes that involve guns.
Marsico said a child rape conviction previously involved a mandatory minimum 10-year prison term; current guidelines are in the 6-year range. An armed robber previously faced a mandatory minimum of 5 years.
There was much testimony over mandatory sentences in drug-dealing convictions. Stedman said prosecutors “absolutely believe in treatment” for those with addiction issues, as opposed to trying to incarcerate our way out of the opioid epidemic.
Marsico said drug-dealing, however, should be considered a crime of violence.
Traffickers are “dealing in violence,” Marsico told the panel. “No drug dealer worth a salt doesn’t carry a gun.”
Lazzari-Strasiser said dealers are well aware of mandatory minimums and potential sentence upon conviction. As proof, she read a prison phone call transcript from a jailed dealer to a cohort.
“There is no more mandatory minimum,” the jailed dealer tells his cohort while discussing continued drug sales.
The PDAA group also testified mandatory minimums are vital as leverage when negotiating plea agreements and obtaining information about other, unsolved crimes.
“We need that leverage against those we catch,” Marsico said, noting that homicides have been solved from information provided by drug dealers in custody facing mandatory minimum sentence.
Perhaps most importantly, the prosecutors testified, crime victims must be considered in possible legislation.
“We can’t have a conversation about mandatory minimums without talking about the victims,” Stedman said. “More than anything else, they want the offender to be held accountable.”
The PDAA group emphasized they are not seeking total restoration of the previous system.
“We are talking about targeting the worst (offenders),” Stedman said.
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