Local Judge Removed From Sex Offender's Case For Second Time

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge criticized for harsh sentencing and treatment of defense attornies

Shelby Cassesse
December 12, 2018 - 12:56 pm

PITTSBURGH (Newsradio 1020 KDKA) - The Pennsylvania Superior Court has removed Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel from presiding over a sex offender's case for the second time in two weeks. 

The court's opinion, released Tuesday, detailed the case of Gabino Bernal who was convicted for sexually assaulting an 8-year-old girl. McDaniel sentenced him to nine to 18 years in jail for unlawful contact with a minor. According to the opinion, the trial court misgraded Bernal's conviction as a first degree felony instead of the proper third degree felony and sentenced him beyond the lawful maximum. Guidelines suggest a maximum sentence of three years. 

Between 2016 and 2017, the Superior Court asked for resentencing twice.  In the first resentencing hearing, McDaniel reduced the jail term to six to 17 years, and upheld that sentence at the second hearing.

McDaniel also allegedly did not allow Bernal or his defense team to speak at a hearing.

The court has previously criticized McDaniel for over-punishing sex offenders, and reiterated these concerns in the opinion.

"We nonetheless would be remiss if we did not express our concern for a sex offender's ability to receive individualized sentencing before a sentencing judge, who consistently imposes consecutive and/or statutory maximum sentences upon a particular class of offenders."

The full opinion is on the Pennsylvania Courts' website.