Superior Court: No resentence for drug dealer
Ocasio sought reduced time based on US Supreme Court decision
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled that a former Blair County drug dealer serving a minimum of 39 years in a state correctional institution is not entitled to a reduction in his sentence despite a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made many of Pennsylvania’s mandatory sentencing laws unconstitutional.
Two years ago, Felix Benji Ocasio, through Pittsburgh attorney Sally A. Frick, appealed a decision by a Blair County judge who refused to resentence him after the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Alleyne v. United States found that mandatory enhancements to sentences imposed by judges were unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court stated that the application of such sentence enhancements had to be recommended by a jury and not by the sentencing judge.
In Pennsylvania, such enhancements traditionally had been within the purview of judges, and Ocasio indicated that his lengthy prison sentence of 39 to 78 years included several mandatory enhancements.
Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron refused without a hearing to resentence Ocasio, and the
37-year-old inmate being housed at the SCI Albion appealed to Superior Court.
He asked the state appeals court if Milliron had erred in refusing to resentence him “following the finding that the Pennsylvania mandatory minimum sentencing provisions for drug offenses is unconstitutional and that finding should be applied to Ocasio retroactively?”
The Superior Court, in an opinion written by President Judge Emeritus John T. Bender, pointed out that one of the reasons that would allow the appeals court to order resentencing of an inmate like Ocasio, who was filing his petition well after the deadline for such a appeal, would be an assertion of a new constitutional right recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bender pointed out that Ocasio’s petition for resentencing was on its face untimely (his original sentence became final in December 2001).
Ocasio was arguing that the Alleyne case met the standard for a “new retroactive right,” which would mean that individuals who received mandatory sentences could petition for resentencing.
“(Ocasio) contends that several, unspecified mandatory minimum sentences were imposed in his case, which are now illegal under Alleyne,” according to the Bender opinion.
The Superior Court judge in agreement with two other judges on the hearing panel, Alice B. Dubow and William H. Platt, agreed that Alleyne, according to a 2014 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, Common-wealth v. Miller, does not apply retroactively.
As a result, the court found Milliron did not err in his refusal to resentence Ocasio.
Ocasio was a teenager when he came to Blair County from the Buffalo, N.Y., area to sell heroin.
The prosecution argued that Ocasio was a key figure in a drug gang headed by Efrain Hidalgo, now 44. Hidalgo is serving a 60- to 150-year sentence at SCI Forest.
The Superior Court review of the Ocasio case was delayed because in 2016 Ocasio indicated he had been abandoned by his attorney.
The court asked Blair County to determine if Ocasio no longer had an attorney, however, earlier this year it was determined that Frick was still represented the defendant.