Understanding Mandatory Sentencing Laws

gavel and scale on top of booksThere are minimum punishments for certain crimes, even for an extenuating circumstance. These are called mandatory minimum sentencing laws and they typically cover drug offenses. Experts at Mastandrea Law explain the implications of these laws and the way they affect your sentence:

How Sentencing Works

As a general rule, a sentencing judge reaches your verdict shortly after you plead guilty or are found guilty during a trial. Punishments vary depending on the severity of the crime, so federal and state sentencing guidelines suggest an array of sentences proportional to the different types of crimes.

The judges are not strictly bound by these guidelines, but they can consider any aggravating or mitigating circumstances related to your specific crime, such as:

  • Your mental state at the time of the crime
  • Whether you tried to avoid hurting anyone
  • Whether you were an accessory or the principal offender
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The final sentence may be shorter, longer, or within the suggested range. Ultimately, it will rest on the judge’s discretion.

How Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws Impact Your Punishment

If your crime is subject to a mandatory minimum sentencing law, the presiding judge will have less freedom in deciding your punishment. Once you are found guilty or plead guilty at trial, you will get at least a minimum sentence set by law.

The judge is not allowed to impose a shorter or lighter sentence. Even if there is evidence that would provide enough reason for leniency, the judge must ignore those facts. Meanwhile, they may regard aggravating factors and carry out a heavier punishment than the minimum.

There is an ongoing debate on the effectiveness of mandatory minimums. As judges are essentially forced to disregard certain factors that would otherwise result in a more lenient sentence, the public thinks of it as rather unforgiving. In any case, you have to take this into account when your crime falls under its rule.