What You Should Know About Mandatory Minimum Sentences

In recent years, there has been a trend towards the federal and state governments setting strict minimum sentences for certain crimes. While one of their stated reasons is consistency in sentencing and fairness, mandatory minimum sentences will seem anything but fair if you are facing one. Here's what you should know about them.

Minimum Means Minimum

Typically, a judge has very wide discretion when determining jail time or allowing probation in place of all or part of a jail sentence. There are also opportunities to earn time off of a sentence through good behavior in jail.

With a mandatory minimum sentence, five years in prison means five years in prison. If a crime has a mandatory minimum sentence, a judge cannot legally issue a sentence below the minimum. There is no chance to earn time off below the minimum or to do part of the sentence on probation.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences Are Constitutionally Valid

Many criminal defense attorneys have already tried to attack these sentences as violating the 8th Amendment and general principles of fairness. These attacks have all failed.

Courts have repeatedly upheld the sentences as legal. The only real question is when certain acts, such as using a gun during a robbery, add to the sentence. In those cases, the jury must find that a gun was used for the sentence to be legal.

You Must Fight the Charge Not the Sentence

Mandatory minimum sentences are tied to specific criminal charges. If a guilty plea is entered on a charge or a jury finds a defendant guilty of a charge, the court only has discretion to issue a longer sentence not a shorter one.

However, if a specific crime is not admitted or proven, but a lesser crime is, the mandatory minimum sentence that applies to the not proven crime will of course not apply. This means that you may want to be pushed to be charged with a different crime.

The first way to do this is by entering into a plea bargain. Your criminal defense attorney will make a deal with the prosecution that they drop the charge with a mandatory minimum if you plead guilty to a crime without a mandatory minimum.

The second way to do this is by asking for the jury to consider both charges. While your chances of a conviction go up, they may convict you of the lesser charge with a lesser sentence.

If you're worried that you may be facing a mandatory minimum sentence or need help beating a criminal charge, contact a local criminal defense attorney today.