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Pennsylvania Court Holds a Defendant Seeking Review of Discretionary Sentence in a DUI Conviction Must Show Substantial Question Exists as to Whether the Sentence is Improper

Under Pennsylvania DUI law, there are sentencing guidelines that set forth standard sentencing ranges for any DUI conviction. If a judge imposes a sentence the defendant feels is unfair, the defendant can seek a discretionary review from a higher court. Recently, in Commonwealth v. Cordy, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania clarified that for a court to offer a defendant a review of a discretionary sentence, the defendant must show that there is a substantial question that the sentence is improper under the sentencing guidelines. If you were charged with a DUI you should consult a Pennsylvania DUI attorney as soon as possible to ensure you do not waive any rights.

Factual Scenario

Allegedly, the defendant was stopped for speeding. When the police officer approached the vehicle, two men exited the car through the passenger door. The men were instructed to return to the vehicle, which they did. The officer asked why the driver exited via the passenger door, to which the driver replied he did not have a license but was driving due to his friend’s request. When the officer asked the driver for identification, he could not produce any. The driver admitted to drinking and was administered a field sobriety test, which he failed. He was arrested and transported to the police station, where he was identified under a different name than he had given the arresting officer. It was then revealed that the defendant had two active warrants and an extensive criminal history.

Reportedly, the defendant pled guilty to DUI, general impairment, which was an ungraded misdemeanor, and habitual offenders, which was a second-degree misdemeanor. At the defendant’s sentencing hearing, the prosecutor advised the court of the defendant’s criminal history, which included over fourteen prior convictions. The court also heard testimony from the defendant regarding his history of drug addiction. The defendant was sentenced to incarceration of not less than nine months and not more than twenty-three months, and six months probation, which was within the standard sentencing range. The defendant appealed the discretionary portion of his sentence. On appeal, the court affirmed.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania Ruling

The Superior Court explained that a defendant is not entitled to a review of discretionary sentencing as a matter of course.  For a court to review whether a discretionary sentence is proper, the defendant must prove, in part, that there is a substantial question that the sentence is inappropriate under the terms of the sentencing code. Whether a substantial question exists must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and a substantial question will only be found where the sentence is inconsistent with a specific provision of the sentencing code or contrary to the values that underlie the sentencing process.

Here, the defendant alleged the court failed to consider any mitigating factors in setting forth his sentence and focused solely on the serious nature of the crime without considering any other relevant evidence, which the court found to be sufficient to raise a substantial question. Upon review of the record, however, the court found that the defendant’s allegations were unsubstantiated. Specifically, the court found the trial judge had substantial information regarding defendant’s mitigating factors. Additionally, the court noted that a sentence in the standard range is presumed to be reasonable and the defendant was required to show the sentence was clearly unreasonable under the circumstances, which he failed to do. As such, the court affirmed the defendant’s sentence.

Retain a Skilled Pennsylvania DUI Attorney

If you are accused of a DUI it is essential to your defense to engage a skilled Pennsylvania DUI attorney to defend the charges against you. Zachary B. Cooper is a seasoned DUI defense attorney who can assist you in formulating a defense that will provide you with a strong chance for a favorable outcome. Contact him at (215) 542-0800 to set up a meeting.

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Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania Holds That The Mistaken Belief That Increased Penalties Will Be Imposed for Refusing to Submit to a Blood Test is Not Sufficient Grounds to Suppress Test Results Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, November 13, 2018

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania Clarifies Law Regarding What Constitutes a Second DUI Offense Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, September 13, 2018

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Affirms Enhanced DUI Sentence Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, December 17, 2017