In this blog post, I answer the most frequently asked PA sentencing questions. Appearing in court for sentencing in a criminal case can be confusing and a highly stressful experience for most people. Also, many different factors can affect whether you receive a sentence of probation, house arrest, county jail time, or a state prison sentence.
Being unprepared for your sentencing hearing can have disastrous results. This blog post will answer the most common questions I have received from clients facing sentencing for a criminal offense in Bucks County, Montgomery County and the surrounding PA counties.
What is the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines?
Prosecutors and judges use the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines to determine the range of the minimum and maximum part of your sentence. The Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission created the sentencing guidelines to ensure more consistency in criminal sentencing.
What Factors are Considered in Calculating the Sentencing Guidelines?
The prosecutor calculates your sentencing guideline range by using a sentencing chart that combines your prior record score and the offense gravity score for your current offense. An offense gravity score can be as low as 1 (possession of a small amount of marijuana) or as high as 14 (3rd degree murder).
What is a Prior Record Score?
The district attorney determines your prior record score based on how many prior juvenile adjudications and prior adult criminal convictions you have on your record. The more prior adjudications and convictions you have, the higher your prior record score will be.
What is an Offense Gravity Score?
An offense gravity score is predetermined number assigned to the crime or crimes you are charged with. Further, felony offenses have a higher offense gravity score, while misdemeanor offenses will have a lower offense gravity score. You are more likely to be sentenced to prison if you have a high offense gravity score and a high prior record score.
What are Mitigated, Standard and Aggravated Sentencing Ranges?
The prior record score and offense gravity score are combined to come up with a recommended range for the minimum part of your sentence. Secondly, each sentencing guideline has a mitigated, standard, and aggravated range. The mitigated sentence range will reflect the lowest penalty you may receive while the aggravated sentencing range will indicate the most severe punishment you may face.
What is the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor Crime?
A felony graded offense involves much more serious criminal conduct when compared to a misdemeanor graded offense. Maximum sentences for felony crimes can add up to decades in prison or even life imprisonment. Examples of common felony crimes include:
- Aggravated Assault
- Possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance
PA Misdemeanor Crimes
In comparison, misdemeanor graded crimes involve a much less serious type of criminal behavior. Examples of common misdemeanor crimes include:
- Simple assault
- Terroristic threats
- Possession of Marijuana
- Possession of heroin
- Most retail thefts
Under Pennsylvania law, the highest graded misdemeanor offense has a maximum sentence of up to 5 years in prison.
What is a Pennsylvania Mandatory Minimum Sentence?
A conviction for certain Pennsylvania crimes will trigger a mandatory minimum jail term. Also, a mandatory minimum sentence is the minimum amount of your jail sentence that you must serve on house arrest, home confinement, work release, in county jail, or in state prison before you can be paroled. In Pennsylvania, a judge does not have the authority to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum sentence.
Examples of PA Crimes with Mandatory Minimum Sentences
- DUI, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and subsequent offenses
- Certain felony crimes of violence, 2nd and subsequent offenses
- Homicide by vehicle by DUI
- Convictions for certain crimes against children
- Murder of the 1st degree
Am I Eligible for House Arrest or Home Detention Instead of Jail?
Most Pennsylvania counties offer house arrest or home confinement with electronic monitoring for eligible persons. House arrest and home detention is not available for individuals who receive a state prison sentence to be served in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
Generally, you will not be considered for home confinement if you have a past or present history of violent behavior. In addition, persons considered to be a threat to community safety will not be approved for house arrest. I can go over the house arrest eligibility guidelines and application process with you.
What Offenses Qualify for House Arrest?
House arrest or home detention is typically available for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd offense DUIs. In addition, most PA counties offer house arrest for other non-violent misdemeanor and non-violent felony crimes. Importantly, your sentencing guidelines must indicate that your sentence can be served in the county and not the state prison system.
What is the Difference Between House Arrest in Bucks County and Montgomery County PA?
The Montgomery County Adult Probation and Parole Department administers the Montgomery County House Arrest Program. The Bucks County Adult Probation and Parole Department oversees a program similar to house arrest referred to as Restrictive Probation with DUI Conditions. Learn about Bucks County DUI Restrictive Probation. Each program has specific application deadlines, procedures and rules and regulations.
Do I have to Live in the County Where the Crime Occurred to Get Home Detention?
It depends. The Bucks County Restrictive Probation Program allows for placement on home detention with electronic monitoring if your address is close to the Bucks County border. Many other counties follow the same policy.
Most Pennsylvania counties will permit a home detention sentence to be served in a nearby county if that neighboring county’s probation office will set up and monitor the offender. I can inform you of which counties will accept courtesy supervision for persons approved for home detention.
What Types of Evidence Can I Present at Sentencing to Avoid Jail?
You will be permitted to present favorable evidence of your background and character to the judge before sentencing. As a result, the sentencing judge may decide against sending you to jail when your mitigation evidence is convincing. Examples of powerful mitigation evidence includes:
- Evidence that you played a minor role in the crime
- Recommendations of character witnesses
- Evidence that the crime was related to drug, alcohol, or mental health issues
- Proof of drug, alcohol, or mental health treatment
- Positive employment, military, or educational history
- You have demonstrated remorse for your crime
Is it Possible to Negotiate a Probation Sentence with the District Attorney?
Yes. In many cases, I can negotiate a favorable probationary sentence in cases that would ordinarily result in a jail sentence. A prosecutor may agree to a recommend a probationary for many different reasons. Some of those reasons may include:
- Weak prosecution evidence
- A reluctant prosecution witness or witnesses
- An overwhelming legal defense
- The defendant has no prior record
Being knowledgeable and informed about the Pennsylvania sentencing process and procedures can often make the difference between being sentenced to prison or going home. In addition, I am highly experienced with the Pennsylvania sentencing process for every type of criminal charge. Most importantly, I can help you avoid the most severe penalties in your case. Contact me if you want to learn about other ways to avoid a harsh sentence in your case.
Start with a Strong Defense
Are you or a loved one facing a sentencing hearing in Bucks County, Montgomery County or the surrounding counties? Phone lines are open 24 hours a day at (215) 752-5282. Contact me for a free initial phone consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response.