If you watch legal television shows, you’ve probably seen that scene where the defense attorney is able to convince the judge that his client needs some type of treatment rather than jail time. Moved by the compelling defense, the judge agrees and sets in motion some kind of treatment plan for the defendant to pursue. What you probably will not see is a judge whose hands are figuratively tied behind her back because she feels there are better treatment options for a defendant but, by law, she must impose a mandatory minimum sentence.
Mandatory minimum sentences are just what the name implies—they are required sentences of a set timeframe that must be enforced for particular crimes. The goal of mandatory minimum sentences is to fairly apply sentencing guidelines to all individuals convicted of particular crimes and to reduce crime in general. Unfortunately, it has had a rather different effect.
Who Sets the Mandatory Minimum Sentences?
There are two sets of mandatory minimum sentences. The state of Florida has mandatory minimum sentences that it requires judges to impose for particular crimes. In addition, the federal government also has mandatory minimums which may or may not differ from those at the state level. Which court system one is tried in, then, can have a big impact on the potential punishment for those found guilty.
In Florida, mandatory minimums are determined by the state legislature and are currently represented in chapter 775 of the Florida Statutes. Federally, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC), an independent government agency that falls under the umbrella of the judicial branch, is tasked with creating and periodically reviewing guidelines.
What Crimes Have a Mandatory Minimum Sentence?
There are three classifications of crimes that fall under mandatory minimum sentencing in Florida: drug crimes (trafficking), sex crimes (lewd or lascivious molestation, also known as child sex abuse), and gun crimes (any crime in which a gun is used). While the first two categories deal with specific crimes, the last category, gun crimes, is broader and can be applied to any crime in which a gun is used, including burglary, domestic violence, or assault. Repeat offenders for murder or homicide, first-degree felonies, second-degree felonies, first-degree misdemeanors, and second-degree misdemeanors are also subject to mandatory minimum penalties. Because determining whether charges against you or a loved one may lead to a mandatory minimum sentence can be difficult or confusing, it’s important to seek the advice of a legal professional.
Under federal law, there are four categories of crimes subject to mandatory minimum penalties: drug crimes, gun crimes, sex crimes (sex abuse and child pornography), and identity theft crimes. Note, as with the state regulations, not all offenses in these categories are subject to mandatory minimum penalties.
Recently, the USSC released new amendments to the current guidelines which went into effect on November 1st, 2018. The group maintains the most up-to-date manuals and sentencing tables on their website. While they make the information public, it is not necessarily transparent. To better understand what penalties you may face when charged with a federal crime, speak to a knowledgeable Tampa defense attorney.
Our area sees many cases that are subject to mandatory minimum penalties, which makes it even more important to seek legal counsel. A report published in 2017 by the United States Sentencing Commission found that the Middle District of Florida (the federal court district which includes Tampa) had the third highest proportion of convictions for offenses carrying a mandatory minimum versus convictions for offenses without a mandatory minimum penalty in the nation (45.6%). That means that in 2016, the year the study covers, almost half of the convictions in Florida federal court were subject to mandatory minimum sentences.
Issues with a Mandatory Minimum Sentence
Many defense lawyers will tell you that mandatory minimum sentences are unfair. For one, they generally don’t take into account mitigating circumstances and they remove a judge’s ability to determine an adequate punishment for a particular case. (And in case you were wondering, no, a judge cannot overrule a mandatory sentence.)
Rather, because mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines lay out blanket sentencing rules, all convicted defendants are subject to a certain term of imprisonment. While they can be sentenced to a longer term, they are not allowed to be sentenced to a shorter term. This removes part of the human element from sentencing and, depending on the situation, can create instances where a convicted individual must serve an inordinately long sentence that doesn’t seem appropriate for their crime.
Mandatory minimum sentences were partly enacted to decrease crime rates, but there’s no evidence showing it has been effective. Instead, it has lead to an increase in prison populations. Some opponents to mandatory minimum sentencing also say that it affects minorities disproportionately, with Hispanics and Blacks being incarcerated at a higher rate than White Americans.
Despite problems with mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and laws, they remain the law of the land and individuals convicted of crimes that fall under their purview will be required to serve those mandatory minimum penalties.
Worried About Mandatory Minimum Sentences?
If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime and you are concerned that a mandatory minimum sentence will lead to hardship or unfair sentencing, contact a Tampa defense lawyer immediately.
Having worked as a prosecutor, I understand the reasoning behind the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, however, all too often, I’ve seen the negative impact it has on the accused and his family members. Let me help you.
At Mike G. Law, I’m committed to providing my clients with expert legal advice and an aggressive defense. I won’t feed you false hope or make promises I can’t keep. Rather, I’ll help you navigate the legal system and fight hard so that together we can achieve the best possible outcome for your situation. Depending on the case, that may mean going to court or it may mean taking a plea deal.
Don’t let the threat of mandatory minimum sentencing take away your voice. Contact Mike G. Law today.