The Justice System: Federal Sentencing and Mandatory Minimums

The Justice System: Federal Sentencing and Mandatory Minimums

In the Justice System, sentencing, and mandatory minimums for federal offenders are hot topics again.  In March, 2013 Democratic Senator Patrick J. Leahy and Republican Senator Rand Paul introduced the Safety Valve Act of 2013. If the bill becomes law, it will allow federal judges to sentence offenders facing mandatory minimum sentences to less time in prison, regardless of the crime charged, provided that doing so does not jeopardize public safety. This does not mean that federal judges will be required to sentence offenders below the mandatory minimum, it merely permits judges to do so when the mandatory minimum sentence is unreasonable and does not fulfill the legislature’s goals of punishment.

Currently, federal prosecutors often charge mandatory minimum offenses to ensure a defendant receives a particular sentence that a particular judge cannot undercut. Prosecutors do this out of fear that the court will impose a sentence the prosecutor thinks is too lenient. Typical cases in the Justice System where prosecutors do this are firearms and child pornography offenses.

To determine whether a mandatory minimum sentence satisfies legislative goals of punishment, judges must consider the federal sentencing guidelines as well as a variety of factors listed in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), which include: the nature and circumstance of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant. The court must also consider the need for the sentence imposed to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment; to afford adequate deterrence for criminal behavior; to protect the public; and to provide the accused with educational and vocational training, medical care, or other treatment. The court must also consider the kinds of sentences available, the sentencing ranges that have been established for the offense, pertinent policies, the need to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities among similarly situated defendants, and the need to provide restitution to any victims

Sentencing in federal cases is a complex process. Effective sentencing advocacy for a guilty client by an experienced criminal defense attorney can make a difference in the number of months or even years someone charged with a federal crime may face. Often people assume an attorney can only help with the guilt/innocence phase of a case. However, sentencing advocacy is vital and begins on the first day of legal representation.

Therefore, if you or a loved one have been charged with a federal criminal offense, it is important that you contact an experienced Michigan federal defense attorney as quickly as possible.