A statute mandating a life sentence for a defendant previously convicted of “murder” is not triggered by the defendant’s murder of an unborn child, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held in Com. v. Haynes, __ A.3d __ (Nos. 2067, 2219 EDA 2014, filed Oct. 5, 2015). The defendant in this case, Roysce Haynes, strangled his girlfriend to death during an argument. She was seven weeks pregnant at the time. Haynes was eventually tried and convicted of third-degree murder and third-degree murder of an unborn child. Cross appeals were taken from his aggregated sentence of 35 to 70 years. The Commonwealth argued that the sentencing court erred by not imposing a life sentence pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S. §9715(a), which requires a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment for any person convicted of third-degree murder “who has previously been convicted at any time of murder or voluntary manslaughter.”
On review, the Superior Court considered whether murder of an unborn child qualifies as a crime contemplated by Section 9715(a). Judge Shogan, writing for the unanimous panel, concluded that it does not. The Court observed that the legislature created ambiguity by not including murder of an unborn child in the predicate crimes specified in Section 9715(a). The Court reasoned that the omission was intentional, citing other instances where the legislature separated crimes against unborn children from crimes committed against other victims (e.g., by placing those offenses in separate chapters of the Crimes Code). The Court rejected the Commonwealth’s assertion that murder of an unborn child is a “degree” of murder, reiterating that it is a crime distinct from murder. The Court also noted that its holding is supported by other factually analogous cases that did not squarely address the issue presented in this case. Finally, on Haynes’ cross-appeal, the Court held that his sentence was not illegal because it fell within the standard range of the sentencing guidelines.