Sentencing Laws: How Do They Work?

The criminal law attorneys at Bodie Law discuss how mandatory minimum sentencing laws work.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws set thresholds for punishment of certain crimes that even judges cannot lower, no matter the circumstance. By disallowing leniency, these inflexible sentencing laws may seem like a way to streamline the legal process, but some view them as actually undermining justice. They may prevent judges from fitting the punishment to the individual and to the circumstances of their offense. These sentences are most commonly seen among drug offenses or possession of a drug beyond a certain amount.

Generally speaking, a sentencing judge decides the punishment soon after a guilty plea or a guilty verdict at trial. State and federal sentencing guidelines suggest a range of sentences appropriate for many different types of crimes, and those punishments are meant to be proportional to the offense. Judges don’t always view these guidelines as strict rules, but may consider the unique circumstances surrounding any given crime.

Examples include the mental state of the perpetrator at the time of the crime, whether or not he or she was the principal offender and whether someone was hurt.  The final sentence could be within the suggested range or could wind up being shorter or longer. This is based on the judge’s discretion.

However, the judge has much less discretion in setting punishment when the crime is subject to a mandatory minimum sentencing law. In these situations, a defendant who pleads or is found guilty will receive at least the minimum sentencing. Even if there are mitigating factors that would otherwise provide a reason for tolerance, the judge must ignore them. The judge may, however, consider those factors and impose a harsher sentence if he or she deems it appropriate.

Three-strike laws are another form of mandatory minimum sentencing. A defendant will face a specific minimum sentence if convicted of a third felony under these laws. Under federal law, that could mean life in prison without parole if the third felony and at least one previous felony were violent crimes. Although penalties vary from state to state, the laws remain similar.

Whether or not you’ve been affected by minimum sentencing laws, it is vital to understand how they work. For more information on minimum sentencing laws or all things pertaining to criminal law, contact a criminal defense attorney at Bodie Law today.