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What is the Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drugs Charges?

June 25, 2020 Federal Criminal Attorneys

Mandatory minimum sentences have been a part of the U.S. Federal Justice System since the 1980s when the Anti-Drug Abuse Act was introduced. The basics of the use of Mandatory Minimum Sentences for drug charges are that every offense involving the possession, distribution, or manufacturing of drugs carries a minimum sentence that is published in the set of sentencing guidelines. One of the major complaints about the use of mandatory minimum sentences is the fact they have taken the decisions about sentencing out of the hands of federal judges.

The History of Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Charges

For many Americans who remember the roots of the war on drugs in the 1980s, the cause tends to be linked to the Republican Party that rules the nation in this era. However, the introduction of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was an attempt by Democrats to show their strength in battling the issue of drug trafficking and dealing. One of the reasons for the introduction of the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines was the idea that a deterrent was needed for drug use in the U.S. following the overdose death of NBA basketball star, Len Bias. The use of mandatory minimum sentences has been controversial from the outset with no hearings or research done into the effects of their introduction completed before passing into law.

What are the Mandatory Minimum Sentences?

The use of mandatory minimum sentences is part of the work of a U.S. Federal Judge operating in one of the 94 Federal Courts around the U.S. The idea behind the use of mandatory minimum sentences is that each offense carries a standard time in jail regardless of the criminal history of the individual being tried at the court.

The basics of the use of these minimum sentences are that any offender prosecuted and found guilty will be handed at least a sentence of one year depending on the severity of the charges they face. There is a range of possible sentences open to a Federal Judge when the defendant is found guilty of a crime. These range from one year in prison without the chance of parole to a lifetime in jail without parole for the most severe cases of drug trafficking and dealing.

Sentencing Guidelines

Each Federal Judge in the U.S. is provided with a set of the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines that are held within a book. When a defendant is found guilty they will have the issue of what the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines state they should receive as a sentence. For example, a person found guilty in the Federal Court of intending to distribute around one gram of LSD will receive a minimum of five years without parole. The same sentence is handed down with no possibility of parole for the possession of 100 Marijuana plants, five grams of crack cocaine, 100 grams of heroin, or 10 grams of PCP.

When an individual is convicted of possessing a larger amount of drugs they face even stiffer minimum sentences from a Federal Court. These include ten-year sentences without the chance of parole for the possession and distribution of 10 grams of LSD, five kilos of powder cocaine, or 100 grams of methamphetamine.

Changes to the Guidelines

The idea behind the introduction of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Guidelines in Federal COurts was to standardize the sentences handed out to those found guilty. However, there are a few occasions where these minimum sentences can be altered in favor of the defendant when it is called for by the Federal prosecutor. In these cases, the main way for a reduction in sentence to be asked for is through the use of a 5K1.1 letter submitted to the judge from the prosecutor. This is usually issued when an individual has been of substantial assistance to the prosecution during an investigation or the trial. The other ways a sentence can be reduced include the use of a Presidential Pardon or by proving they are a non-violent first-time offender.

What are Mandatory Minimum Sentences?

Mandatory minimum sentences are one of the most controversial aspects of both federal and state criminal justice. A mandatory minimum sentence can be described as the lowest sentence a judge at either state or federal level can hand out to an individual based on the crime they have committed. Much of the controversy surrounding the use of mandatory minimum sentences is the fact they are created by lawmakers at the state or national level and have been accused of reducing the power of judges.

How do Mandatory Minimum Sentences Work?

The mandatory minimum sentence is a guideline introduced at the federal level by Congress and is the lowest sentence a federal judge can pass on a criminal for a certain crime. Some states have also used the power of their state-level politicians to introduce mandatory minimum sentences based on the severity of a crime.

In federal courts, every judge is provided with a book of sentencing guidelines that include tables detailing exactly what the minimum sentences are for each crime. Other factors are not taken into account the minimum sentence a person convicted of a federal crime should receive from a judge.

When was the Mandatory Minimum Sentence Introduced?

The introduction of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 saw the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences for the majority of drug offenses committed in the U.S. Before the introduction of the act and its passing into law in 1988, each federal judge was allowed to act with discretion about the sentences they handed down to those convicted of the most serious crimes. The war on drugs of the 1980s saw a change in the way the crimes of the period were judged with the many lawmakers feeling a stricter standard sentence would aid in reducing the drug trade in the U.S.

Following the Guidelines

Federal judges are elected to their positions through the U.S. Congress where they are interviewed and judged on their capabilities. The introduction of minimum and maximum sentences by Congress reduced many of the acts open to a federal judge, but there is still some room for every judge to decide on the level of the sentence handed down.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines contain tables from which a judge must formulate their sentence depending on the severity of the crime. For example, an individual caught carrying five grams of crack can be given a minimum sentence of five years in federal court rising to ten years of federal jail time when ten grams of crack is involved in any crime.

Alongside the use of a sliding scale of prison time for any individual convicted of a crime for which there is a mandatory minimum sentence, there are also mandatory maximum sentences. These maximum sentences are generally longer than those that are handed out at the state-level.

Each time a federal judge is to pass a sentence on an individual who has been found guilty of a crime they use the tables contained within the Federal Sentencing Guidelines to make a decision about the severity of the crime. There are 43 levels of drug offenses that can be used to determine the minimum sentence that will be handed down to any person found guilty in a federal court.

The Expansion of Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Throughout the last few years, there has been an expansion of the use of mandatory minimum sentences use at both the state and federal level in the U.S. Among the areas where minimum sentences must be adhered to are those involving pornography and trafficking.

Why are Mandatory Minimum Sentences Used?

The idea behind the use of mandatory minimum sentences is that they will make it easy for a judge to remain in their role to deter, incapacitate, and rehabilitate the individual. Despite there being a little option for a judge to increase or decrease the sentence of an individual after being found guilty, they can use certain guidelines to make sure they complete the correct sentence to fit their crime and history. In some cases, prosecutors will use mandatory minimum sentences to try and reach a plea deal with a person charged with a crime to help them agree to plead guilty to a lower-level offense.

Mandatory Sentences

If you’re charged with a theft crime, the degree and severity of the charge will vary depending on the circumstances. Regardless of the charge or the seriousness, it’s vital to get in contact with a lawyer as soon as possible. Lawyers are experienced in navigating the criminal justice system. They can protect you from the predatory tactics of law enforcement, help explain your options, and create the best defense based on the evidence being presented by the prosecution. A lawyer may be able to get the charges or potential sentence reduced. They may also be able to help demonstrate evidence showing that the prosecution is incorrect and that the allegations are false.

You should never wait to be indicted or convicted before you ask for a lawyer. As soon as law enforcement is involved in the situation, you should get a lawyer as a form of self-protection. This is especially true if you’re innocent. The earlier in the process that you involve your lawyer, the easier a time you’ll have navigating the criminal justice process.

Mandatory sentences are a complicated aspect of the legal system. They can vary slightly depending on whether you’re dealing with state or federal regulations. Different states have different outlined penalties for different infractions. Each crime has different classifications and degrees. Within those classifications, each crime also has a minimum and maximum potential sentence. A judge will choose a sentence from that range. If you want to avoid the minimum possible sentence, you’ll need to strike a plea deal with the prosecution.

Mandatory Minimums Defined

Mandatory minimums are defined differently depending on different circumstances. One place that mandatory minimums are imposed is in cases where a defendant has had a previous felony conviction within the last ten years. It doesn’t matter what the felony conviction was for – another felony conviction means that they will have to serve a mandatory minimum sentence.

There are also mandatory minimums for people who steal more than $1,000,000. If the valuation of the theft was more than $1,000,000, then the defendant will need to serve a mandatory prison sentence upon conviction. This remains true even if they had no prior criminal record.

Appealing Mandatory Minimums

There are some ways to appeal a mandatory minimum sentence, but you’ll want a lawyer for all of them. It’s important to have effective assistance counsel. During the case negotiations, your lawyer can create a strategy to help you avoid experiencing a mandatory minimum sentence or to reduce the mandatory minimum.

The best way to avoid a mandatory minimum is during the initial case. But if you’ve received a conviction that includes a mandatory minimum sentence, you’ll also want a lawyer to help guide you through the appeals process. Your options for appealing a sentence will vary depending on the circumstances of the crime, your conviction, and your options for restitution.

The Role an Attorney Plays

Sentencing lawyers can guide you through the entire justice process. From the moment you’re arrested and charged, your lawyer is your biggest advocate. They will have access to information regarding the prosecution, the case being built against you, and the information that law enforcement is compiling. They will also have previous experience with similar cases.

A criminal lawyer understands how mandatory sentences work on a federal and state level. They will be able to explain the ramifications of the charges that you’re facing. They’ll also be able to explain the options you have going forward based on the evidence that the prosecution has compiled. You and your lawyer will create a strategy together.

Sometimes the strategy will involve plea negotiations with the prosecution to avoid a mandatory minimum sentence. In a plea negotiation, you’ll usually be asked to plead guilty to a lesser charge for a reduced sentence. There won’t always be a plea deal available, and your lawyer will be able to advise you about whether a plea deal is a good option.

Should the case go all the way to a judge, your lawyer will be able to create a strategy to argue your case. They may argue to have your charges reduced, or they may argue for a more lenient sentence based on your actions. For example, if you pay restitution and indicate that you want to make the situation right, judges tend to be more forgiving in their sentencing.

Your lawyer may also be able to poke holes in the prosecution’s case during the arguments. If the prosecution’s evidence isn’t able to definitively prove that you committed the crime, your lawyer will point that out. The burden is on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime. Your lawyer’s job is to examine the facts to determine and point out the existence of reasonable doubt.

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