Mandatory minimum sentences have been imposed in a variety of jurisdictions as a deterrent for repeat offenders. They have also been incorporated into certain statutes to prevent specific crimes from being committed, such as drug or gun crimes. The goal of mandatory sentences is to make the consequences of committing a crime less beneficial than the perceived rewards. Sometimes this is worked very well, while other times the benefits aren’t always so apparent.
There are some definite pros and cons to the issuance of mandatory minimum sentences. Here is a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages in more detail.
What Are the Pros of Mandatory Minimum Sentences?
1. It helps to eliminate personal bias.
In the United States, 300 million people will each have a unique opinion on any given subject. This is true in the justice system just as much as it is with any other subject. Mandatory minimum sentences help to create a standard of justice that is equally applied to all parties who are charged with the same crime.
2. It eliminates the sympathy factor.
Although everybody deserves a fair chance, having a sentence that is too lenient almost makes it seem like an offender gets away with the crime. By instituting mandatory minimum sentences, there is a guarantee that sentences are uniform throughout the justice system so that offenders are punished based on their overall moral culpability.
3. It may lead to a decrease in crime.
When mandatory minimum sentences were first installed in the US justice system in the 1980’s, there was a significant drop in crime across all categories as these sentences were handed down.
What Are the Cons of Mandatory Minimum Sentences?
1. It shifts the personal bias.
Sentencing used to be in the hands of a judge or jury. With mandatory minimum sentences, a guilty verdict means that the prosecutor is in more control of the sentence that offender receives. They can choose whether or not to charge them the crime that carries a minimum mandatory sentence.
2. It creates an environment of coercion.
When low-level offenders are threatened with a high level mandatory sentence, they will often say or do anything to get out of spending multiple years in prison. The theory is that these mandatory minimums can help law enforcement officials move up the chain of command in organized crime, but the accuracy of the information that they receive may be questionable.
3. Some cases create unjust sentences.
A desperate mother of four once was paid $100 to mail an unknown package to someone. It contained 232 g of crack cocaine and a judge sentenced her to a 10 year mandatory minimum sentence because the law dictated what had to be done even though the judge felt it irrational and unjust.
Any system of justice that is created is going to have flaws and imperfections. The goal of minimum mandatory sentences is a worthy one to attempt to achieve. If we are willing to take the pros and cons together and find a middle ground, then we can create sentencing guidelines that have common sense areas of exceptions so that justice can always be found.