The Superior Court of Pennsylvania decided the case of Commonwealth v. Garcia-Rivera earlier this month, in which Melvin Garcia-Rivera had entered an open plea of guilt and was sentenced to two counts of involuntary manslaughter. Garcia-Rivera was charged in connection with a motor vehicle accident in which his two passengers were killed. The standard sentencing guideline for involuntary manslaughter is nine (9) to twenty-three (23) months imprisonment, which is increased or decreased based on aggravating or mitigating circumstances respectively.
Garcia-Rivera entered an open guilty plea submitting to sentencing by the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas. At sentencing, his lawyers argued he was extremely remorseful, fully employed, cooperating with the victims’ attorneys in the civil trials and cooperating with the state Attorney General’s office in an ongoing investigation. The trial court sentenced Garcia-Rivera to the standard nine (9) to twenty-three (23) months incarceration for the first count, to be followed by a consecutive twenty-three (23) month period of probation for the second count. The court, on record, stated that Garcia-Rivera did not have a criminal record or troubled history, thereby meriting probation for the second count rather than consecutive prison terms. However, the court reasoned that the twenty-three (23) month probation, to be served consecutively with the prison term, still fell within the standard sentencing range.
On appeal by the Commonwealth, The Superior Court remanded the case for sentencing, finding the twenty-three (23) month probation actually fell in the mitigated sentencing range for involuntary manslaughter. The opinion referenced all of the mitigating factors discussed on record during Garcia-Rivera’s sentencing hearing, however found that the trial court based its decision solely on his not having a criminal record; a factor already considered in standard sentencing guidelines versus increased sentencing. Therefore, the Court found the sentencing judge was not justified in sentencing the defendant to probation and remanded the case for resentencing; for either mitigating factors to be considered on record in sentencing, or for a second consecutive prison term to be served.
Garcia-Rivera counter-argued that the trial court erred in sentencing him to consecutive sentences for the same act. Counsel for Garcia-Rivera argued that because both victims were killed in the same accident, the defendant should not be sentenced for each death but rather have two deaths factored into his one sentence. The Superior Court based their decision on Pennsylvania’s REAP statute, which states a person is guilty of reckless endangerment when s/he put another person in danger of death or serious injury. The Supreme Court has held the REAP statute could be used to impose multiple sentences for multiple victims, in a case where defendant recklessly drove his vehicle into a crowd of people. In the case of Commonwealth v. Frisbie, the Supreme Court reasoned that if the REAP statute provided for one sentence where multiple victims were put in danger, the statute would read another person or persons, rather than just a single person.
A sentencing hearing is held following a plea of guilt or a finding of guilty at trial. The purpose of the hearing is to hear both mitigating and aggravating factors, which may affect the duration of a defendant’s sentence. Some crimes carry mandatory minimum sentences, while others use guidelines which are advisory. Often times, a defendant can lower the level of his offense through mitigation; for example, cooperating with and assisting Police in an on-going investigation. There are other mitigating factors which are used to reduce a defendant’s sentence as well. An experienced criminal defense attorney is well versed in these mitigating factors, and can assist the defendant in reducing a potential sentence. If you have been charged with, or believe you are under investigation for a crime, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Marc Neff for a confidential consultation.