In the criminal justice system, two forms of sentencing come up in courtrooms. The first and most common is discretionary sentencing, whereby a judge can order a defendant to serve anything from probation up to the maximum allowable sentence. The other, a more controversial form is mandatory minimum sentencing; a person convicted of a crime must serve a predefined term for certain crimes. In the latter type of sentencing, the length of time behind bars is not up to the judge but rather the legislature.
While mandatory minimum sentencing prevents judges from handing out stiff sentences based on personal bias, it does not account for myriad factors that any logical person would think should be considered before sentencing. What’s more, mandatory minimums are one the leading causes of our overburdened penal system in the U.S.
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing
Americans mostly hear about mandatory sentencing laws in reference to drugs. In 1986, with the passing of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, different mandatory minimum sentences for drugs crimes were enacted by Congress. It became clear early on that persons found with certain drugs, and types of drugs in a given subset would be treated more harshly than others.
In many ways, the passage of the bill was a direct response to the American “crack” cocaine epidemic. Even though powder cocaine can do equal damage to a person’s life as crack, those caught with 5 grams of crack and found guilty of distribution faced minimum sentencing of 5 years. Compare that now to the mandatory sentencing guidelines for powdered cocaine; to receive a five-year mandatory, one would need to be caught with 500 grams.
In recent years many states, including California, have sought to roll back draconian mandatory minimum laws, but they persist in many cases. Moreover, there are still thousands of Americans serving unjust lengths of time for, in the grand scheme of things, relatively small crimes.
A new HBO documentary takes a close look at the pernicious damage fixed sentencing laws can have on people. Rudy Valdez’s “The Sentence” is about his sister Cindy Shank who received a 15-year mandatory sentence for conspiracy charges related to her deceased ex-boyfriend’s crimes. The film premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival; please take a moment to watch the trailer.
If you are having difficulty viewing the clip, please click here.
Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney
Attorney Ronald Brower brings more than three decades of experience to the table in representing his clients. A leading attorney in Southern California, he can advocate for you or a loved one to help achieve a favorable outcome to an unfortunate circumstance. Please contact The Law Office of Ronald G. Brower today!