Mandatory minimum sentencing laws

A mandatory sentence is a court decision setting where judicial discretion is limited by law. Typically, people convicted of certain crimes must be punished with at least a minimum number of years in prison. Mandatory sentencing laws vary from country to country; it is mainly an area of interest only in Common Law jurisdictions, since Civil Law jurisdictions usually prescribe minimum and maximum sentences for every type of crime in explicit laws.

United States federal juries are generally not allowed to be informed of the mandatory minimum penalties that may apply if the accused is convicted, because the jury’s role is limited to a determination of guilt or innocence. However, sometimes defense attorneys have found ways to impart this information to juries; for instance, it is sometimes possible, on cross-examination of an informant who faced similar charges, to ask how much time he was facing. This is sometimes deemed permissible because it is a means of impeaching the witness.

However, in at least one state court case in Idaho, it was deemed impermissible. Mandatory minimum prison sentences are punishments that are set through legislation for specific offenses. They have been used throughout history for different crimes. The four traditional goals of punishment are: deterrence, incapacitation (incarceration), retribution, and rehabilitation. With the state of our national economy, cutting prison and corrections costs would be a huge savings.

On the surface, it may seem that mandatory minimum sentences would serve the traditional goals of punishment. They would discourage potential criminals, keep society safe for longer periods of time, they would punish the offender and they would rehabilitate the offender. What they did not do, however, is take into account the individual circumstances of each case and each defendant. Mandatory minimum sentences are not effective and they should be repealed.