PA Supreme Court overturns Gun plus Drug Dealing Mandatory Minimum Sentence

Supreme Court Overturns Drug plus Gun Mandatory Sentence:   In the case of Commonwealth vs. Hanson, __ A.3d.__, 2013 WL 6831854 (Pa. Supreme Ct., December 27, 2013), opinion by Justice Saylor, the application of a gun plus drug dealing mandatory minimum is overruled, because the court ruled that a defendant (Hanson) must be in knowing, physical possession or control, which is constructive control/possession, of the drugs and the firearm must be in close proximity to the drugs in question.  The appeal centrally presents questions of statutory construction pertaining to 5 year mandatory minimum sentences attaching to the offense of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver (PWID), 35 P.S. 780-113(a)(30), while in possession or control of a firearm, 42 Pa.C.S. 9712.1(a).    

On June 7, 2007, an undercover narcotics officer met with Hanson outside a 2 story row house in Philadelphia.  There, the officer purchased packets of crack cocaine from Hanson, who then entered the locked residence using a key. Officers observed Hanson repeatedly entering the row house with the key the next day. Hanson was the only person observed entering and exiting the home. Police executed a search warrant at the property and arrested Hanson on the 1st floor.  On his person, Hanson had cash and the key, but no drugs.  A search of the 2nd floor uncovered: (1) from the front bedroom, a cell phone, electroic scale, a various drug related parphernalia; (2) from the middle bedroom, a clear plastic bggie containing 14 packets of crack cocaine; (3) from the only bathroom in the house, a baggie containing PCP; and (4) from the rear bedroom, a handgun loaded with 7 live rounds.  No drugs or paraphernalia were discovered in the rear bedroom which contained the firearm.

Hanson argued that he was not in physical possession or control of the firearm; the firearm was not in close proximity to the controlled substances; and he did not have the requisite mens rea for purposes of Section 9712.1(a), the manadtory minimum 5 year prison sentence.  

Based upon a series of considerations outlined in the court's opinion, the case was remanded for resentencing, with the admonition that imposition of the mandatory sentence under Section 9712.1(a) be applied on a correct legal analysis and supported findings.      

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