Guns, Firearms, and Sentencing Guidelines in Pennsylvania

Sentencing GuidelinesA gun or firearm charge is obviously serious in Pennsylvania as most of are felony offenses where a person faces the possibility of state incarceration even for a first time offense. While I’ve written articles about ways to challenge a gun charge focused on reasonable suspicion, probable cause, as well as actual and constructive possession, this article focuses on sentencing consequences in the event that your defense isn’t successful. Gun and firearms charges are commonly called VUFA charges.

The most common gun charges in Pennsylvania are Violations of Section 6105, Section 6106, and Section 6110.2 of the Uniform Firearms Act (Title 18, Chapter 61, Section 6101). Section 6105 is the possession of a firearm by a person prohibited by law. Section 6106 is the possession of a firearm by a person without a license. Section 6110.2 is the possession of a firearm which has an obliterated or altered manufacture’s serial number. I have written previous articles on these subsections of the Uniform Firearms Act and I encourage you to read them for more information on these criminal charges.

While all of these criminal charges are serious felony offenses in Pennsylvania, they vary with regards to the harshness of the criminal consequence following a conviction. While some people may believe that a judge randomly picks a sentence following a plea or a trial, Pennsylvania, like most states, maintains sentencing guidelines based on offenses and a person’s prior criminal history. The Pennsylvania sentencing matrix is a table which judges utilize prior to sentencing a criminal defendant. While a judge isn’t bound by sentencing guidelines, most will give sentences within those guidelines to avoid an improper sentence appellate issue.

The sentencing matrix is divided into a horizontal and vertical axis. The vertical axis is based on the offense gravity score (OGS) of a crime and the horizontal axis is based on a criminal defendant’s prior record score (PRS). With regards to gun crimes, the OGS varies from as high as a 10 to as low as a 2 for certain misdemeanor firearm offenses. Violations of Section 6105 can range from as high as a 10 to as low as a 4. Violations of Section 6106 can range from as high as a 9 to as low as a 3. Violations of 6110.2 can vary from a 10 to a 9.

The range of the OGS depends on the circumstances surrounding a person’s arrest and whether or not the gun was loaded at the time of that arrest. The higher the OGS, the more of a severe sentence a criminal defendant faces following a conviction. For example, the guidelines for a first time offender convicted of a gun crime with an OGS of 10 are 22-36 months and 12-24 months for an OGS of 9. A gun crime with an OGS of 3 however faces restorative sanctions to 1 month in jail which more than likely means probation.

The guidelines increase from that point and a person with a prior felony or even a misdemeanor conviction in some cases faces a higher criminal penalty. For example, a person with a gun conviction with an OGS of 10 and a prior conviction for another gun crime or a prior possession with the intent to deliver could face 42 to 54 months instead of 22 to 36 months for that same offense.

These standard sentencing guidelines, however, don’t take into account the deadly weapon sentencing enhancement which District Attorney’s sometime argue for following a conviction and I encourage you to read that article on this topic. In addition to sentencing guidelines based on OGS and PRS, the sentencing matrix also includes mitigation and aggravation ranges which judges must take into account prior to imposing a sentence. Mitigation and aggravation can increase or decrease sentencing guidelines by as much as a 12 months depending on the amount of mitigation a defense attorney provides to a judge.

Gun and firearm charges are serious in Pennsylvania and for more information on this important topic I encourage you to read my book and subscribe to my monthly newsletter which provides more information and criminal defense strategies on this subject.