The PA Superior Court recently decided the case of Commonwealth v. McCain, No. 3000 EDA 2016 (December 4, 2017), holding that the trial court abused its discretion by imposing a sentence that was too lenient and failed to adequately consider the required statutory sentencing factors.

During a fight, McCain fired a gun he was not permitted to posses into the ground at which time the victim was struck by a ricochet bullet. After a bench trial, McCain was convicted of aggravated assault, conspiracy, simple assault, persons not to possess firearms, firearms not to be carried without a license, carrying a firearm on public streets in Philadelphia, and recklessly endangering another person.

The trial court deferred sentencing and ordered a pre-sentence investigation report (“PSI”). McCain was subsequently sentenced to an aggregate term of 11 1/2 to 23 months in prison, with immediate parole to house arrest, followed by 7 years of reporting probation and 50 hours of community service. The trial court did not grant McCain credit for time served.

The Commonwealth appealed the trial court’s sentence, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion by imposing a sentence below the mitigated range of the sentencing guidelines (the trial court had calculated the standard range sentence based on the persons not to possess firearms offense at a minimum sentence of 72 to 84 months in prison, plus or minus 12 months for the aggravated/mitigated range).

Among other reasons raised by the Commonwealth, it noted that McCain’s substantial record (which includes convictions for, inter alia, robbery, rape, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon) and his classification as a repeat felony offender called for a sentence that would protect the public from a violent criminal. In this case, the Commonwealth argued, the trial court’s sentence failed to do so.

The Superior Court noted that, “[a]n abuse of discretion may not be found merely because an appellate court might have reached a different conclusion, but requires a result of manifest unreasonableness, or partiality, prejudice, bias, or ill-will, or such lack of support so as to be clearly erroneous.” After analyzing the sentencing factors to be considered by any trial court, the Superior Court concluded that the trial court’s sentence was unreasonable. Specifically, the trial court field to properly consider: (1) The nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant; (2) The opportunity of the sentencing court to observe the defendant, including any presentence investigation; (3) The findings upon which the sentence was based; and, (4) The guidelines promulgated by the commission.

The Superior Court then reviewed the factors in light of the facts on the record and noted, in particular, that the trial court’s sentence was “drastically below even the mitigated guidelines range.” Ultimately, the appellate court concluded that, “based upon the circumstances of this case and McCain’s significant criminal history, which includes violent crimes and a federal firearms offense, and displays his inability to abide by the terms of less restrictive punishments, McCain’s sentence was unreasonably lenient, and an abuse of the trial court’s discretion.”


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