27 Nov 23

Understanding Mandatory Minimum Sentences in NYC Federal Cases

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Last Updated on: 16th December 2023, 11:12 am


Understanding Mandatory Minimum Sentences in NYC Federal Cases

If your facing federal charges in NYC, mandatory minimum sentences can seem scary. There designed to take away a judge’s discretion and force them to give certain sentences, no matter the circumstances. But there’s still things to understand that can help you navigate the system.

What Are Mandatory Minimums

Mandatory minimum sentences set a “floor” that judges have to sentence below. For example, if a crime has a 5-year mandatory minimum, the judge has to give at least a 5-year sentence, even if they think the circumstances call for less. They take away judicial discretion.

These mandatory minimums are set by laws passed by Congress or state legislatures. They’ve become really common over the past few decades in response to the failed “war on drugs.”

Common Federal Mandatory Minimums

Some of the most common federal mandatory minimums include:

And more. If your facing federal charges in NYC, your likely looking at mandatory minimums under the drug or firearm statutes.

Criticisms of Mandatory Minimums

Mandatory minimum sentencing has faced a lot of criticism over the years from legal experts, judges, and criminal justice reform advocates. Some of the main criticisms include:

  • They undermine the sentencing guidelines system designed to eliminate disparity
  • Take discretion away from judges to issue fair sentences based on circumstances
  • Can coerce plea deals even if defendant is innocent
  • Disproportionately impact low-income communities of color

In other words, these mandatory minimum sentences can force judges to give sentences that seem unjust. They also give huge power to prosecutors, because avoiding the mandatory minimum is often only possible through cooperation and plea deals.

Avoiding Mandatory Minimums in Federal Cases

While mandatory minimums restrict judicial discretion, there are some limited ways they can be avoided or reduced in federal cases:

Substantial Assistance Departures

If you agree to cooperate with prosecutors and provide “substantial assistance” in going after higher targets, the prosecution can file a motion allowing the judge to go below an otherwise applicable mandatory minimum. This is risky though.

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The “Safety Valve”

For some drug crimes under the Controlled Substances Act, first-time non-violent offenders may qualify for the “safety valve” exception if they give complete information to prosecutors. This allows the judge to go below mandatory minimums.

Constitutional Challenges

There have also been some successful constitutional challenges to mandatory minimums under the 8th amendments prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.” But these are still limited. Consult an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer if you think your mandatory minimum may be unconstitutional.

Bottom Line on Mandatory Minimums

While scary, mandatory minimum sentences in federal cases aren’t destiny. An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can help identify defenses, cooperation opportunities, exceptions, and even constitutional challenges. Don’t go at it alone.


Controlled Substances Act

18 USC 924

Child pornography statutes

8th Amendment challenges