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Mandatory Minimum Sentences Pros and Cons List

A mandatory minimum sentence is a requirement in criminal law that anyone convicted of specific crimes must serve a specific amount of time in jail. Many of these policies require a minimum of 85% of a sentence to be served before being eligible for parole. Some convictions have a minimum number of years that must be issued as part of the sentence too.

Juries are not usually informed of these sentencing guidelines during a trial. The fear is that the knowledge of a lengthy sentence, if they vote to convict, could prevent some guilty individuals from serving the time they deserve.

The mandatory minimum sentences pros and cons review the balance that this policy hopes to create within the criminal justice system.

List of the Pros of Mandatory Minimum Sentences

1. Their intent is to keep society safe from harm for a specific time.
A mandatory minimum sentence seeks to stop convicted criminals from getting out of prison or jail too soon. There have been numerous stories where a sympathetic judge offers a minimal sentence for a heinous crime. Take the case of Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. He walked out of jail after serving just 90 days. The prosecutor wanted him to serve six years instead.

2. It eliminates personal bias from the situation.
The goal of a mandatory minimum sentence is to streamline the criminal justice process. There are fewer places of negotiation to find between the prosecutor, defendant, and judge in this circumstance because specific rules must be followed when an individual is charged with a crime. This process reduces the cost of the court system while removing any personal bias from the situation.

3. It removes sympathy from the situation.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed in a 2017 memo that all federal prosecutors should pursue the most serious charges against people in all by “exceptional cases.” Even when someone is convicted for the first time with a serious offense, the consequences of such an action were known (or should have been known) before making the choice which led to the charge. If someone with a prior drug felony is charged with possession of 50g of methamphetamine, then they face 20 years to life in prison. That’s a simple process to follow.

4. Their presence can lead to a decrease in violent or serious crime.
Two years after the U.S. implemented changes to stop pursuing mandatory minimum sentences, the largest single-year increase in overall violent crime since 1991 occurred in 2016. Federal drug crime sentences dropped by 18%. Violent crime had been decreasing for almost 20 consecutive years. Although it doesn’t always have an impact on crime, there are times that it does.

List of the Cons of Mandatory Minimum Sentences

1. The laws aren’t always applied as they should be.
Montana saw another case where a teacher raped a student. The mandatory minimum sentence for such a crime is 24 months behind bars. The judge decided that this wasn’t appropriate, so a 30-day sentence was given instead. Even when these sentences are mandated, there isn’t a 100% guarantee that someone will follow them.

2. It limits how the judge can preside over the case.
The concern with a mandatory minimum sentence is that judges are no longer permitted to evaluate each case on its merits. They serve a figurehead role only, passing along a sentence after a guilty verdict that the law decrees. This role makes them more of an administrator of the criminal justice system than an actual judge. The real power gets transferred over to the prosecutors, who determine what charges an individual should face in the first place.

3. It targets specific behaviors that are not always violent.
Since the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, very long maximum sentences are permitted, from 40 years to life imprisonment, for certain drug offenses. Judgers must provide a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years if someone is found in possession of just 5g of meth. Not only do these laws target specific behaviors, but they also can target specific socioeconomic groups in ways that attempt to force change.

4. They are used to negotiate guilty pleas.
95% of federal drug defendants plead guilty because of the risks in facing a mandatory minimum sentence. Defendants get scared to go to trial, so they exchange a reduced sentence t give up their legal basis for a defense.

These mandatory minimum sentence pros and cons show that the idea looks good on paper, but it doesn’t apply well within the modern criminal justice system. No two people are exactly alike. That means each sentence should be different too.