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COMMONWEALTH v. BUTLER (10/16/74)

decided: October 16, 1974.

COMMONWEALTH
v.
BUTLER, APPELLANT



Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County, Jan. T., 1971, No. 103, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Ronald Allen Butler.

COUNSEL

Richard D. James, Ronald J. Mishkin and Soren P. West, Public Defenders, for appellant.

Benjamin Lerner, Deputy Attorney General, with him C. Daniel Higgins, Assistant District Attorney, and James F. Marsh, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Justice Eagen concurs in the result. Concurring Opinion by Mr. Justice Pomeroy.

Author: Roberts

[ 458 Pa. Page 290]

This case presents a significant question of the facial constitutionality of the legislative response to our decision in Commonwealth v. Daniel, 430 Pa. 642, 243 A.2d 400 (1968). We agree with appellant that the Commonwealth's sentencing statutes -- the Act of 1911 and the so-called new Muncy Act -- by their joint operation are constitutionally impermissible. We disagree, however, that the Act of 1911 must be struck down. Instead, we hold unconstitutional that portion of the new Muncy Act directing that no minimum sentence be imposed on women convicted of crime. Because the constitutionally-offensive part of the statutory scheme has been declared invalid, we affirm appellant's judgment of sentence.*fn1

Appellant on April 9, 1971, pleaded guilty to murder generally and was convicted of murder in the second degree. The court assessed punishment at ten to twenty years imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. This appeal ensued.*fn2

Appellant's sole challenge is to the constitutionality of the legislative choice to prescribe that all men receive minimum sentences and that all women not be given minimum sentences. An understanding of this Commonwealth's sentencing scheme is necessary.

[ 458 Pa. Page 291]

In 1911, the Legislature enacted a general sentencing statute. Act of June 19, 1911, P.L. 1055, §§ 1-6, as amended, 19 P.S. §§ 1051-57 (1964). Section 6 of that act provided that any person convicted of a crime*fn3 was to be sentenced to an indeterminate sentence. 19 P.S. § 1057 (1964).*fn4 Trial courts were further instructed

[ 458 Pa. Page 292]

    by section 6 to "[s]tat[e] in such sentence the minimum and maximum limits thereof . . . and the minimum limit shall never exceed one-half of the maximum sentence prescribed by any court." Id. A few years later an exception to this general sentencing statute was carved out by the original Muncy Act. Act of July 25, 1913, P.L. 1311, §§ 7-26, as amended, 61 P.S. §§ 551-91 (1964). When it came to women convicted of crime, trial courts were to sentence them to the State Correctional Institution at Muncy.*fn5 Act of July 25, 1913, P.L.

[ 458 Pa. Page 2931311]

, § 15, as amended. According to the original Muncy Act, "Every sentence imposed pursuant to this act shall be merely a general one . . . and shall not fix or limit the duration thereof." Id.*fn6

This disparate treatment of men and women went unchallenged until 1966, when Jane Daniel, on appeal from a robbery conviction, contended that the sentencing scheme was unconstitutional. More particularly, she argued that the failure to fix maximum sentences for women convicted of crime coupled with the requirement that men convicted of crime receive a minimum and a maximum denied her the equal protection of the laws. This Court agreed and on July 1, 1968, declared unconstitutional that portion of the Muncy Act requiring that women not be given a maximum sentence. Commonwealth v. Daniel, 430 Pa. 642, 243 A.2d 400 (1968).

[ 458 Pa. Page 294]

On July 16, 1968, the Legislature passed a bill to replace that part of the Muncy Act held invalid in Daniel. Act of July 16, 1968, P.L. 349, § 1, 61 P.S. § 566 (Supp. 1974). Under this new Muncy Act, women are to receive maximum sentences. However, "[t]he court in imposing sentence shall not fix a minimum sentence . . . ." Id.*fn7 It is the constitutionality of the proscription of minimum sentences for female offenders that is here challenged.

The significance of minimum sentences arises in connection with eligibility for parole. See generally Act of August 6, 1941, P.L. 861, §§ 1-34, as amended, 61 P.S. §§ 331.1 -- 331.34 (Supp. 1974). Responsibility for determining when to release a person on parole is vested in the Board of Parole. 61 ...


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