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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Vacates Sentence Due to Sentencing Court’s Failure to Provide Assessment of Alcohol Dependency

If you are convicted of a Pennsylvania DUI, the law affords you the right to an assessment of your level of dependency on alcohol and drugs before you are sentenced. If the court fails to provide you with an assessment, your sentence may be overturned. In one recent case, Commonwealth v. Taylor, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania specifically held that the assessment is mandatory and cannot be waived  when it vacated a sentence issued without an assessment.

In Taylor, the defendant pleaded guilty to driving under the influence, which was his second DUI offense. Under the laws of Pennsylvania, a defendant who pleads guilty to or is convicted of a DUI offense must undergo an evaluation to establish the degree of his use of alcohol and drugs. Additionally, individuals like the defendant, who are convicted of two or more DUI offenses within ten years, are to undergo a complete assessment of their addiction to alcohol and drugs.

The assessment is to be done by the Department of Health, the county agency, or an individual licensed to administer drug and alcohol treatment programs. The purpose of the assessment is not only to determine the extent of a defendant’s dependency but also to provide recommendations regarding what level of care and monitoring are best suited for the defendant. If an assessment reveals that a defendant would benefit from further treatment, the statute directs the court to impose the minimum sentence statutorily provided for and a maximum sentence equal to the statutory maximum. The statute further provides that a defendant is eligible for parole following the end of their minimum sentence.

At his sentencing hearing, the defendant argued the court was obligated to provide him an assessment prior to imposing a sentence, and that any sentence should incorporate recommendations for treatment. The trial court disagreed, stating it was the defendant’s burden to obtain an assessment prior to his sentencing, and that by failing to obtain an assessment he had waived his right to an assessment that incorporated treatment. The trial court sentenced the defendant to forty-five days to six months in jail. The defendant appealed, arguing the sentence was illegal because it was imposed without an assessment, and arguing the court improperly placed the burden to obtain an assessment on him. The sentencing court argued that the sentence was not illegal, because it did not exceed the maximum sentencing range.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held it was clear from the statutory language that the assessment was mandatory and not discretionary. As such, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania found that because the sentencing court failed to follow the mandatory sentencing scheme, the sentence was improper, regardless of the fact that the sentence did not exceed the statutory maximum. Moreover, the Court noted, the county did not have a designated agency or individual to conduct pre-sentencing assessments; therefore, the defendant did not waive the pre-sentence requirement of an assessment. Rather, the county failed to provide him with an opportunity to obtain an assessment. Based on their findings, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania vacated the defendant’s sentence and ordered the sentencing court to issue a new sentence.

If you were sentenced without receiving an assessment of your drug or alcohol dependency following your DUI conviction, you should seek skilled legal representation immediately. Zachary B. Cooper has substantial experience in criminal defense and can assist you in your pursuit of post-conviction relief. Call (215) 542-0800 for a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Pennsylvania Superior Court Denies DUI Defendant Post-Conviction Relief, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, September 15, 2017

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Vacates Illegally Enhanced DUI Sentence, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, February 3, 2017

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Finds No Error in Admitting Defendant’s Prior DUI Conviction into Evidence, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, May 3, 2016