U.S. Supreme Court ruling snarls sentencing minimums

Written by The Associated Press | May 26, 2014 3:37 AM

(Pittsburgh) -- A U.S. Supreme Court decision has prompted dozens of appeals in criminal cases across Pennsylvania and left judges scratching their heads on how to proceed in applying the law on mandatory minimum sentences.

The court ruled juries, not judges, must decide whether a defendant committed certain aspects of a crime that trigger a mandatory minimum sentence.

Those triggers, for example, could be being in a school zone when dealing drugs or using a gun in a robbery.

But Pennsylvania law says jurors decide only guilt or innocence, then a judge -- using a lower standard of proof -- decides if the triggers for a mandatory sentence have been proved.

Legal experts say the commonwealth will likely have to rewrite mandatory minimum laws or stop using them entirely.

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