Court upholds jail time for meth

Finnegan’s plea triggered mandatory sentence, not judge

While most mandatory prison sentences in Pennsylvania have been declared unconstitutional because of a 2013 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, the 24- to 48-month mandatory sentence imposed on a Cambria County man has been upheld by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

John Alexander Finnegan, 34, was arrested by Johnstown po­lice on Jan. 25, 2017, on 23 offenses that included the manufacture with intent to distribute meth­­­amphetamine, risking a catastrophe, child endangerment and recklessly en­dangering others.

His meth lab was in his home where four children were also found.

On March 13, 2018, Cambria County Judge Patrick T. Kiniry imposed a 24- to 48-month prison sentence on Finnegan for the manufacture of meth and a concurrent six- to 12-month sentence on a reckless endangerment charge.

Finnegan’s attorney, Timothy S. Burns of Ebensburg, appealed the sentence because it was based on a two-year mandatory clause in the law.

Burns contended the mandatory sentence was in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court case, Alleyne v. United States, which stated that it was up to a jury to decide facts that trigger the application of a mandatory sentence, not a judge.

Prior to the ruling, in Pennsylvania many man­datory sentences were, by law, left to the discretion of a judge.

Pennsylvania courts since Alleyne have enforced the U.S. Supreme Court decision, and Burns appealed, contending Finnegan’s sentence was invalid.

A three-judge Superior Court panel including John T. Bender, Susan Peikes Gantman and Judith F. Olson, declared otherwise.

Under the law in question, a person convicted of the manufacture of methamphetamine “shall be sentenced to at least two years of total confinement,” the panel cited.

Finnegan pleaded guilty to the offense, admitting that he possessed with the intent to deliver meth.

“Accordingly, it is not the sentencing judge that makes a factual finding regarding what specific controlled substance the defendant possessed,” according to the judicial panel ruling.

It was Finnegan’s plea that triggered the two-year mandatory, not a finding by the sentencing judge and therefore, the 24-month minimum sentence does not violate the U.S. Supreme Court decision, according to the Superior Court opinion written by Bender.

Finnegan is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Laurel Highlands in Somerset County.