Prosand Cons of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Throughouthistory, Mandatory minimum prison sentences have been punishments that wereestablished through legislatures for specific criminal offenses. Althoughmandatory sentencing has always been a product of good intentions; goodintentions do not always yield good policy, especially when that policy is not supportedby good research or results. One might ask is crime best deterred by assigningpredetermined sanctions for specific offenses or should magistrates have fulldiscretionary power to sentence defendants based on the aggravating andmitigating factors of each case? This paper will explain how mandatory minimum sentencingcame about, analyze the pros and cons for mandatory sentencing, and explain whetheror not it is an efficient tool in combating crime. Congressutilizes mandatory minimum sentencing for several offenses, however it is mostfrequently used in drug cases.
Mandatory minimums were first introduced whencongress passed an act in 1951 to combat sympathetic judges granting lenientsentences to those convicted of drug related crimes. This act was known as theBoggs Act of 1951 Coined by Hale Boggs. Not only wasthis the first piece of legislation to group marijuana in the same category asdangerous narcotics such as heroin, but this also was the first piece oflegislation to make no distinction between those that recreationally used drugsand those that sold drugs to make ends meet. Under the Boggs Act, possession ofheroin or marijuana resulted in a mandatory minimum two year prison term forthe first offense, while a second offense carried mandatory minimum five yearsin prison. Althoughthe Boggs act was the first piece of legislation to require minimum sentencingit was definitely not the last. In fact the government liked the idea so muchthat since the 90’s an entirely new variety of crimes have become contingent onmandatory minimum sentencing ranging from immigration crimes to sex and drugoffenses. Many people who support mandatory sentencing state that it is a goodattribute to the criminal justice system because it acts as a deterrent tovarious types of crime. For example, reports claim that the United Statesexperienced a substantial decline in drug related offenses after mandatoryminimum sentencing laws were established in the 1980.
It is believed that if aperson witnesses someone going to jail for a lengthy amount of time for a specificcrime, they are less likely to commit that same crime.Notonly do supporters believe that mandatory sentencing is a way to deter specificcrime, they also suggest that the law prevents magistrates from exhibitingpersonal bias towards the accused. Sympathetic magistrates may sometimes feelobligated to grant a more lenient sentence in favor of the accused, especiallyif they know them.
People also suggest that mandatory sentencing gives thecriminal justice system an opportunity to be fair because various offenders whocommit the same crime all receive the same prison sentence no matter what theiraffiliation with the judge is. Aspreviously stated, one of the reasons why mandatory minimum sentencing wasestablished was to prevent sentencing inconsistencies that may arise frommagistrates having full discretionary power; however, mandatory sentencing hasnot eradicated these issues because sentencing discretion has not been removed,It simply transferred from the hands of the magistrate to those of the prosecution. Prosecutors are not under any obligation tocharge a defendant with a crime resulting in mandatory minimum sentencing aspunishment. Moreover, prosecutors possess the discretion to decide what chargesto bring, whether or not to accept a plea bargain, as well as the power toplead with the court to reduce or increase a sentence based on the corporationof the defendant. This poses a problem because it creates a realm of coercionwithin the criminal justice system due to the fact that offenders fearinglengthy mandatory minimum sentences will often say and do whatever is necessaryto get out of a lengthy sentence. This could result in offenders confessing tocrimes they did not commit or even pinning the crime on someone who had nothingto do with the crime in question.Anotherpoint that people argue against mandatory minimum sentencing is that thepunishment never fits the crime, especially for non-violent offenders. Thesesentences are most often used in felony drug cases, resulting in manynon-violent offenders falling victim to these sentences.
Not only is mandatorysentencing detrimental to the lives of non-violent offenders it is also one ofthe reasons why the prison system has become so overcrowded. Most prisons arefull of offenders who had it not have been for mandatory sentencing would haveshort prison sentences or no prison sentences at all.