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Commonwealth v. Ramos

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

December 27, 2013

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee
v.
Guillermo RAMOS, Appellant.

Argued Sept. 10, 2013.

Appeal from the order of the Superior Court at No. 1154 EDA 2011 dated March 9, 2012 Affirming the Judgment of Sentence of the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, at No. CP-39-CR-0000664-2010 dated April 8, 2011. Trial Court Judge: Maria L. Dantos, Judge; Intermediate Court Judges: Jack A. Panella, Anne E. Lazarus, Gene Strassburger, Judges.

Page 87

James L. Heidecker, Esq., Joshua Enders Karoly, Esq., Karoly Lawfirm, L.L.C., Allentown, for Guillermo Ramos.

Karl Baker, Esq., Ellen T. Greenlee, Esq., Peter Rosalsky, Esq., Defender Association of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, for Defender Association of Philadelphia, amicus curiae.

Heather F. Gallagher, Esq., Havertown, James Bernard Martin, Esq., Lehigh County District Attorney's Office, for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, STEVENS, JJ.

OPINION

STEVENS, Justice.

This appeal questions whether the imposition of a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 9712.1 violates Pennsylvania's indeterminate sentencing scheme set forth in 42 Pa.C.S. § 9756(b), when the maximum sentence for a conviction under 35 P.S. § 780-113(f)(2) is also five years.

Facts

On October 23, 2009, officers with the Allentown Police Department and the Lehigh County Drug Task Force executed a search warrant at the residence of Guillermo Ramos (hereinafter " Ramos" ) where they found Ramos and a female in a bedroom asleep in a bed. N.T. 3/15/11 at 8. The officers detained the two occupants and discovered a black Smith and Wesson automatic handgun on a dresser located three to four feet from the bed. Id. at 8, 12. Officers also found a blue box underneath the handgun which housed two more firearms, and four baggies each containing marijuana were located in the top dresser drawer. Id. at 12-13; N.T., 1/31/11 at 5. The three marijuana plants found in the dresser yielded 1.4 grams, and when an additional three marijuana plants discovered in a nearby closet were processed, they rendered a weight of 27.4 grams. N.T., 1/31/11 at 5. Officers also confiscated packaging material which included a box of sandwich bags from a dresser. N.T., 3/15/11 at 14-15; N.T., 1/31/11, at 5. Ramos took full responsibility for the possession of all of the aforementioned items.

On January 31, 2011, Ramos entered an open guilty plea to charges of Manufacturing of a Controlled Substance (Marijuana) and Possession with Intent to Deliver a Controlled Substance (Marijuana) (" PWID" ) both of which were violations of 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(30).[1] On February 10, 2011, the Commonwealth provided written notice that it intended to proceed under the mandatory sentencing provision of 42 Pa.C.S. § 9712.1 and 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(30) with regard to Ramos's guilty plea to the PWID count. On April 8, 2011, the trial court sentenced Ramos to an aggregate sentence of five months to ten years in prison. Specifically, Ramos received nine months to five years in prison on the Manufacturing of a Controlled Substance (Marijuana) conviction to run concurrently with a term of five months to ten

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years in prison on the PWID conviction.[2] In an amended sentencing order entered on that same date, after stating its belief that the sentence it had imposed on the PWID count exceeded the allowable statutory maximum, the sentencing court modified the sentence for that conviction to a flat, five year prison term which it deemed to be a mandatory sentence pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 9712.1. Ramos did not file a post-sentence motion, but he did file a timely appeal with the Superior Court on April 29, 2011.

The Superior Court unanimously affirmed his judgment of sentence in an unpublished memorandum opinion. Commonwealth v. Ramos, No. 1154 EDA 2011, 47 A.3d 1238 (Pa.Super. filed March 9, 2012). In doing so, it relied upon this Court's holding in Commonwealth v. Bell, 537 Pa. 558, 645 A.2d 211 (1994), cert. denied, Bell v. Pennsylvania, 513 U.S. 1153, 115 S.Ct. 1106, 130 L.Ed.2d 1072 (1995) wherein upon our analysis of 18 Pa.C.S. § 7508,[3] we determined that a mandatory minimum sentence of five years could be read consistently with a maximum allowable sentence of the same amount of time, and, therefore, found that where a mandatory sentence is invoked, a sentencing court may impose a flat, five-year sentence. In a footnote, the Superior Court also acknowledged that the " minimum-maximum rule," 42 Pa.C.S. § 9756, and the sentencing maximum outlined in 35 P.S. § 780-113(f)(2), are general statutory provisions, whereas the mandatory minimum provision under which Ramos had been sentenced, 42 Pa.C.S. § 9712.1, was specifically enacted to deal with situations where firearms are found in a defendant's possession and control, or near the controlled substance, at the time of the offense. The Superior Court determined that our rules of statutory construction provide the more specific statute shall prevail in the event of a conflict under 1 Pa.C.S. § 1933. Commonwealth v. Ramos, No. 1154 EDA 2011 slip. op. at 5 n. 3, 47 A.3d 1238 (Pa.Super. filed March 9, 2012).

Arguments

Ramos states that the only question presented to this Court for review is the legality of imposing a mandatory minimum sentence pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 9712.1 which is equal to the statutory maximum sentence provided for that offense. Brief for Appellant at 10. Ramos contends it is an impermissible violation of Pennsylvania's indeterminate sentencing scheme mandated by 42 Pa.C.S. § 9756(b) to impose a flat, five year mandatory minimum sentence under 42 Pa.C.S. § 9712.1, when the maximum sentence for the underlying conviction of PWID is also five years pursuant to 35 P.S. § 780-113(f)(2). Ramos reasons that as Section 9712.1 was adopted in 2005, years after 18 Pa.C.S. § 7508 had

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been enacted and Bell had been decided, if the Legislature intended a reading that would have allowed Sections 9712.1 and 113(f)(2) to be interpreted consistently, it would have included prefatory language similar to that which it included in 18 Pa.C.S. § 7508. Ramos further argues that under 42 Pa.C.S. § 9756, his sentence must have a range that includes a minimum and a maximum prison term, and, therefore, his sentence of nine months to five years on the Manufacture of a Controlled Substance conviction and concurrent five year prison sentence for the PWID conviction violates the minimum-maximum rule. Stated another way, Ramos posits that if the flat, five year term is added to the minimum sentence, the sentence becomes five years and nine months to five years, which violates the minimum-maximum rule, and if it is added to his maximum sentence, it becomes nine months to ten years, and exceeds the maximum term set forth under 35 P.S. § 780-113(f)(2).

The Defender Association of Philadelphia filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Ramos wherein it argues that 42 Pa.C.S. § 9712.1 does not contain any type of prefatory proviso, while in Bell the statute at issue, 18 Pa.C.S. § 7508(a)(1), contained explicit statutory language that it applied " [n]otwithstanding any other provision of this or any other act to the contrary," and this Court found such specific language " explicitly trumped" the minimum-maximum rule when sentencing a defendant under Section 7508. Brief of Amicus Curiae Defender Association of Philadelphia on Behalf of Appellant Guillermo Ramos at 9. Amicus concludes that an interpretation of Section 9712.1 which requires a flat, five-year term of incarceration where the underlying, substantive ...


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