The Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Watson, No. 1875 WDA 2015, holding that the trial court was incorrect in believing that it was required to impose a five-year maximum sentence when imposing a sentence of County Intermediate Punishment for Watson’s DUI conviction.

Watson entered an open guilty plea to DUI, his second offense within ten years. It was graded as a Tier III (Highest rate of alcohol) offense, meaning he was subject to a statutory maximum sentence of five years. At the time of sentencing, the Commonwealth argued that the mandatory sentence of five years imprisonment was appropriate. The court ultimately sentenced Watson to five years of County Intermediate Punishment (CIP) supervision because it was of the belief that it had no discretion to sentence Watson to less than 60 months of CIP.

Watson appealed, arguing that, because he completed counseling and assessment pursuant to the Vehicle Code Chapter relating to DUIs and no further treatment was recommended, the court was not bound by statute to impose a mandatory sentence of five years’ CIP supervision. Watson claimed that the mandatory five years is applicable only if further treatment is necessary and that, otherwise, the court has discretion with respect to the length of the term of CIP supervision.

On appeal, the Superior Court acknowledged that this case involved the relationship between the mandatory sentencing provisions of the DUI statute and the discretionary sentencing provisions of the Sentencing Code.

In discussing that relationship, the Superior Court explained that the DUI statute and the Sentencing Code can be read together to permit a sentencing court to avoid a mandatory minimum sentence in favor of a sentence of CIP for certain eligible offenders. And, where a sentencing court sentences a DUI defendant to CIP, the sentencing court is not required to impose a mandatory maximum sentence pursuant the DUI statute. (NOTE – mandatory minimums still apply and may be satisfied in a number of ways, including a qualified county intermediate punishment program for eligible offenders.)

In Watson’s case, the trial court found Watson eligible for CIP and sentenced him pursuant to the alternative sentencing provisions in the Sentencing Code; however, the court also believed it was required to impose the CIP sentence for the mandatory maximum term as provided for in the Vehicle Code.

The Superior Court first explained that the trial court had the discretion to impose CIP because a trial court can do so for any DUI offenders who have a first, second, or third offenses, in spite of any mandatory minimum sentence elsewhere prescribed by law, as long as the offender is otherwise eligible. Furthermore, the Superior Court explained that even if a Defendant is found in need of further treatment, the trial court also has the discretion under the Sentencing Code to impose a sentence that avoids the mandatory maximum under the Vehicle Code provided, of course, the defendant is eligible for CIP.

Accordingly, because the trial court in Watson’s case was under the misapprehension that it was bound to impose a five-year maximum, the Superior Court vacated Watson’s sentence and remanded his case for re-sentencing.


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