JUDGMENT OF SENTENCE
(The Most Important Document)
In Pennsylvania, every sentence imposed by a Judge upon a criminal
defendant must be in accordance with a statute that is enforceable at the time the crime was committed. This fact is true regardless of the particular sentence, no matter if the sentence is 2-to-4
years, 20-to-40 years, Life Imprisonment, or the Death Penalty. As a result, the only way to determine if a particular sentence is imposed pursuant to an enforceable statute is to examine an
important document called the Judgment of Sentence.
The Judgment of Sentence (also known as the "Sentencing Order"), is a written document that the Judge signs and enters upon the records of the court to represent the sentence that has been imposed. The written Judgment of Sentence order is the most important document concerning the appeal process because:
1.) The written Judgment of Sentence order is the only document that can prove that a defendant has ever been sentenced;
2.) The written Judgment of Sentence order is the only document that can prove what statute authorized the Judge to impose the sentence. (If no statute is mentioned, no statute was used to authorize the sentence, and that is illegal);
3.) The written Judgment of Sentence order must be entered upon the records of the Court to represent the verity of the imposed sentence. ( In other words, if no written Judgment of Sentence order has been entered upon the records of the Court, a defendant cannot appeal the sentence that was imposed because there is no record of such sentence!... OBTAIN A COPY OF YOUR WRITTEN JUDGMENT OF SENTENCE ORDER!!!) ;
4.) The written Judgment of Sentence order is the only document that can mandate that a defendant pay a fine. (if it is not specified within the written Judgment of Sentence order that a defendant must pay a fine, then such defendant does not have to pay the fine and no other document can compel a defendant to pay anything. This fact is substantiated by reason #5 below) ;
5.) The written Judgment of Sentence order is the only document that can authorize any "sentencing conditions" that also get imposed with the sentence in the "Overall Sentencing Scheme"... [ For an in-depth explanation on this particular matter, see pages 3-12 of the PAsentencing.com FREEDOM PACKET, 1st Edition.]
6.) The written Judgment of Sentence order is the only document that can verify that the Sentencing Judge ordered the transfer of custody of the Defendant [For example i.e.: from County Custody to State Custody];
7.) The written
Judgment of Sentence order is one of the only documents signed by the sentencing Judge. As a result, the written Judgment of Sentence order is the only record that can represent the intention
of the Sentencing Judge at the time of the sentencing hearing. (It has been substantiated that the written Judgment of Sentence order takes precedence over the sentencing transcripts. *See
supporting case law below)
** The Following Case Law Is Provided In Support
of The 5 Reasons Mentioned Above**
"The only sentence known to law is the sentence or judgment entered upon
the record of the court."
- Greene v. U.S., 358 U.S. 326, 79 S.Ct. 340 (U.S. Dist. Col. 1959)
- Appeal of Marelia, 110 A.2d 832, 177 Pa.Super. 520 (1955)
- Hill v. U.S. ex rel Wampler, 298 U.S. 460, 56 S.Ct. 760 (U.S. Pa. 1936)
"It is well-established that the sentencing order takes precedence over the sentencing transcript where there is a discrepancy between the sentence as written and as orally pronounced."
- Com. v. Wilson, 2010 WL 5100596 (Pa. Super. 2010)
- Com. v. Gordon, 897 A.2d 504 (Pa. Super. 2006)
- 28 Standard Pennsylvania Practice 2d § 137:25
"Oral statements made by the judge in passing sentence, but not incorporated in the written sentence signed by the sentencing judge, are not part of the judgment of sentence."
- Com. v. Quinlan, 639 A.2d 1235, 433 Pa.Super. 111 (1994)
- Com. v. Mount, 93 A.2d 887, 172 Pa. Super. 258 (1953)
"The court speaks through its judgment, and not any other medium. It is not within the power of a judge by instructions to a clerk to make some other medium the authentic organ of his will."
- Hill v. U.S. ex rel Wampler, 298 U.S. 460, 56 S.Ct. 760
"A sentence, like any other judgment, is to be construed so as to give effect to the intention of the sentencing judge and that to determine this intention, the court will limit itself to the language of the judgment despite oral statements of the sentencing judge which are not incorporated in it."
- U.S. ex rel Speaks v. Brierley, 417 F.2d 597 (C.A.3 (Pa.) 1969)
"The prisoner is detained, not by virtue of the warrant of commitment but on account of the judgment and sentence."
- Biddle v. Shirley, 16 F.2d 566 (C.C.A. 8 (Kan) 1926)
Many of you reading this may not understand what an actual Written "Judgment of Sentence" order looks like... If that's the case, to view a sample Judgment of sentence" order click here.
Consequently, once you understand the importance of the written 'Judgment of Sentence' order, the next matter you need to focus on is: How do I get a copy of the written 'Judgment of Sentence' order?...
There are numerous ways in which you can go about obtaining a copy of the written 'Judgment of Sentence' order. However, for the sake of simplicity, the following two methods are being provided.
1. Contact Your Clerk of Courts
You should contact the Clerk of Court from the county where your case occurred, or (if possible) have someone physically visit that Clerk of Courts office to obtain a copy of the document you desire. The written 'Judgment of Sentence' order is public information, and thus accessible to the Defendant and/or Defendant's loved ones. Furthermore, PA. R. Crim. P. Rule 114 (A)(1) clearly states:
"All orders and court notices shall be transmitted to the clerk of courts' office for filing. Upon receipt in the clerk of courts' office, the order or court notice promptly shall be time stamped with the date of receipt."
As a result, the written 'Judgment of Sentence' order should be filed within the Defendant's criminal case file at the Clerk of Courts office within such Defendant's county.
2. Proceed Under The "Right - To - Know - Law"
If you are unable to obtain a copy of the written 'Judgment of Sentence' order (for whatever reason), it may be necessary for you to continue your search by proceeding under the "Right-To-Know-Law". The Right-To-Know-Law, initially enacted by legislature through the Act of 1957, June 21, P.L. 390, No. 212 was later repealed by the Act of 2008, February 14, P.L. 6, No. 3, and provides the criteria and proper procedures for gaining access to public information. To obtain a copy of the document you seek, you must complete a 'Standard Right-to-Know Request Form' and mail it to the following address:
Pennsylvania Department of
1920 Technology Parkway
Mechanicsburg, Pa 17050
If you need a copy of the 'Standard Right-To-Know Request Form', Click Here
Once you mail in your request of the written 'Judgment of Sentence' order, you will receive a formal response letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Right-To-Know Office within 5-7 days. In that response letter, you will be informed that the Right-To-Know Office has received your request, and that the Right-To-Know Office will need an extension of thirty (30) days to locate and retrieve a copy of the requested document from a "remote location". Rest assured that this is merely standard procedure (believe me, I've exhausted this remedy numerous times).
Before the expiration of said 30-day extension, you will receive another formal response letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Right-To-Know Office. This second response, however, will either include a copy of the written 'Judgment of Sentence' order you requested, or there will be a formal letter from the Right-To-Know Office stating: "the record(s) you requested do not exist."
If you receive notice that the written 'Judgment of Sentence' order "does not exist", then your next step is to appeal the Right-To-Know Offices' disposition by filing a Right-To-Know Law Appeal form. If you need a copy of this form Click Here.
*** Editor's Note*** Be aware that you are not appealing the Right-To-Know Office's denial trying to actually "win" the Appeal. You are merely appealing the Right-To-Know Office's denial so that the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records will compel the necessary person(s) to provide an Affidavit/Attestation under penalty of perjury that the requested 'Judgment of Sentence' order does not exist. This Affidavit/Attestation will serve as your proof that there is no written Judgment of Sentence order for the imposed sentence, and this proof can be used as an "Exhibit" in future legal filings and court proceedings.
However, if the Right-to-Know Office does provide you with a copy of the written Judgment of Sentence order, your next step will be to "examine" the document to see if it possesses "Statutory Authorization". (A written Judgment of Sentence order can only possess statutory authorization if the Judge writes what statute the sentence is imposed pursuant to.)
Many of you may not understand the importance of statutory authorization, but its as simple as this: Every sentence imposed by a Judge in Pennsylvania upon a Defendant (no matter if it's a 2-to-4 year sentence, LIFE IMPRISONMENT, or DEATH PENALTY) must be authorized by an enforceable statute enacted by the General Assembly.
"If there is no statutory authorization
for an imposed sentence,
that sentence is illegal and must be vacated."
- Com. v. Wilson, 2010 WL 5100596 (Pa. Super. 2010)
- Com. v. Johnson, 873 A.2d 704 (Pa. Super. 2005)
So in other words, there are numerous statutes enacted by Pennsylvania's General Assembly that give the sentencing Judge the authority to impose certain sentences for certain crimes upon a criminal defendant. However, that Judge must use one of those specific statutes when imposing such a sentence, or that sentence is illegal.
PAsentencing.com was created solely for the purpose of providing the public with accurate information concerning the Pamphlet Laws of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and other related subject matter. However, this website was not created by persons licensed to practice law throughout the state of Pennsylvania. PAsentencing.com should not be construed as a substitute for the advice or representation of an attorney, but rather an aid towards addressing specific aspects concerning illegal sentencing procedures throughout the state of Pennsylvania.
P.O. Box 98157
Pittsburgh, PA 15227
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