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Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences: What Does It Mean For Criminal Justice?

Back in the 80’s courts began handing down what were called “mandatory minimums” for certain crimes. One of the most common examples of this practice in the current judiciary system is what is known as the “mandatory minimum drug sentence.”


Mandatory minimums are sentences for crimes that must be given by a court to someone who is convicted of a crime. Most mandatory minimums apply to either gun or drug-related offenses.

What is a mandatory minimum drug sentence?


Mandatory minimums first began being imposed for crimes in 1984, with the Sentencing Reform Act. Mandatory minimum drug sentences were mostly implemented after the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.


Drug-related offenses have mandatory minimum sentences and the sentence is usually based on the type or the weight of the drug that was involved.


For example, if someone was convicted for trafficking 1 kilo or more of heroin, the federal mandatory minimum for their crime would be 10 years. Meanwhile, someone convicted of trafficking 100 grams of heroin would get a mandatory minimum drug sentence of 5 years.


There are also some circumstances under which the offense could have a different mandatory minimum. For example, if someone is a repeat offender, the mandatory minimum sentence doubles. In other words, a repeat offender who was caught with 1 kilo of heroin will be subject to a mandatory minimum of 20 years instead of 10 years. Same for a repeat offender with 100 grams of heroin, where the mandatory minimum jumps from 5 years to 10 years.




Are mandatory minimum drug sentences fair?


In recent years, there have been more and more objections to the mandatory minimums for drug sentencing. The major reason people object to mandatory minimums is, they take a "one size fits all" approach for sentencing and don't take into consideration any mitigating circumstances.


When mandatory minimums were first conceptualized, it was thought that by promoting uniformity it would result in a fairer justice system. The law and only the law would determine the punishment someone convicted of a crime would receive. However, many people who are against mandatory minimums argue that that is not the case.


For example, as we pointed out, mandatory minimum drug sentences are only based on the type and weight of the drug that someone was caught with. It does not take into consideration other factors such as whether the offender is nonviolent or not considered a danger to the community. This could result in a minor offender getting treated as harshly as a hardened criminal offender. If you are caught up in a case related to driving a car while taking drugs, you can hire a DUI attorney to help you with that matter.


It has been found that mandatory minimum drug sentences tend to result in long sentences and have an impact on the size and composition of the prison population, so many feel that mandatory minimums are a factor that drove the mass incarceration problem and resulted in overcrowded prisons.


It has also been found, however, that offenders convicted and sentenced with mandatory minimums had a lower recidivism rate. Back in the 1980s when mandatory minimum sentencing first started being used, there was seen to be a significant decrease in crime where a mandatory minimum was imposed. The reasoning behind this was supposed to be because these mandatory sentences made the perceived consequences of committing the crime more concrete and decreased the attractiveness or perceived rewards that the crime could bring. In other words, they made people think twice or better about committing the crime.


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