Mandatory minimum sentencing occurs when there are limited judicial discretions by law. Convicted criminals must be sentenced to a minimum number of years in prison. This eliminates judicial discretions when determining punishment for specific crimes because judges are unable to reduce for any reason (Mauer, 2010). According to Simon (2013), mandatory minimum sentences require every person to get the same punishment for the related crime regardless of the judge's objection to the penalty. This means that judges are never informed of the mandatory minimum sentence, and they cannot prevent sentencing because it will interfere with the decision (Mauer, 2010). Therefore, mandatory minimum sentences are highly controversial since advocates believe that it provides a deterrent mechanism and it's fair because all criminals who commit similar crimes receive similar punishments. On the other hand, an opponent of mandatory minimum sentences believes judges need to have full control of the process of sentencing, and they continue to criticize the elimination of personal testimonials during the trial (Bershen, 2018).
Why Mandatory Minimum Sentence was Established
A mandatory minimum sentence (Boggs Act) was enacted in 1952 in the US because of high levels of drug trades between the United States and Mexico (Mauer, 2010). Before the introduction of the Boggs Act, judges had the unrestrained discretion to impose sentence they considered appropriate. However, this led to some crimes having a long sentence and others having more lenient sentences. For example, in the video "The House I Live In" we see the Mark Bennett, a district court judge who has no choice but give a life sentence to offenders found with the small number of drugs (Simon, 2013). This discrepancy was intrinsically unfair leading to the establishment of mandatory minimum sentencing. Besides, the mandatory minimum law made the possession of Marijuana a crime and a mandatory minimum sentence of 2-10 years and a fine of 20,000 US dollars based on the class of the individual (Mauer, 2010). The Boggs Act was repealed in 1970 because it was too harsh for individuals with small quantities of marijuana (Mauer, 2010).
The Effect of the Mandatory Minimum Law
Mandatory minimum penalties were enacted to bring certainty to the process of sentencing. Therefore it has had the following impact on public safety and crime:
Reducing Crime and Victimizations
In the last three decades, the mandatory minimum law has had continuous success in reducing crime and victimization. This happened at a time when the population in prison was increasing. However, research shows that an increase in the severity of punishment can enhance crime (Mauer, 2010). By increasing the prospects of apprehending offenders, criminals may be deterred by such effect. But by extending the punishment when criminals believe they will not be apprehended does little to reduce crime. Therefore, although the mandatory minimum law may have increased the severity of punishment, it does not provide significant deterrent effect (Mauer, 2010).
The Mandatory Minimum Law Does Not Address Drug Crimes Effectively
The effect of imprisonment on drug offenders does not reduce crime efficiently because they are immune to long prison terms. Since most drug offenders are from lower and middle class, imprisoning them create job opportunities for other individuals seeking to earn money quickly leading to a large pool of potential sellers (Mauer, 2010). This makes the effect of mandatory minimum law limited in deterring crime.
The Mandatory Minimum Law Has Impacted Recidivism Rate
Mandatory minimum law serves to increase the time an offender will spend behind bars, and it restricts the judges and corrections official discretion (Mauer, 2010). This causes a criminogenic effect because the longer a person spends n prison, the more the chances of committing crime after completing his/her sentence. Therefore, although prison is a school of crime, it increases recidivism.
The Mandatory Minimum Law Increases the Challenge for Successful Re-Entry
The mandatory minimum law has led expanded prosecution of drug offenses leading to lengthier prison terms that increase the difficulties of re-entry (Mauer, 2010). Since prisoners are housed anywhere, most offenders are in prisons that are far from their residents while serving long-term sentences. This erodes ties with their families and community leading to the challenge of successful reentry.
Increases Racial Disparity
The mandatory minimum law seeks to increase racial disparities in the United States. There have been evidence during trials where whites are less likely than non-whites to be prosecuted and sentenced using the mandatory minimum law (Mauer, 2010). This leads to an effect of discrimination since more African Americans are sentenced than white offenders. Since the drug war primarily occurs between the government and African American communities, there have been harsh penalties to this population although not all African Americans are involved in drugs. Research also shows that Hispanics and African Americans are more likely to be sentenced than non-whites using the mandatory minimum law (Mauer, 2010). An average African American offender is 77% more likely to serve in prison compared to 28% of white drug offenders (Mauer, 2010). Therefore, the mandatory minimum law has had a devastating effect on Hispanic and African Americans in the United States. Eliminating the mandatory minimum sentencing from the court system will be a significant step in developing a fair and rational system of sentencing.
Bershen, W. (2018). War without End: 'The House I Live In' Deconstructs America's Failed Drug Policies. Retrieved March 17, 2018, from https://www.documentary.org/magazine/war-without-end-house-i-live-deconstructs-americas-failed-drug-policies
Mauer, M. (2010). The impact of mandatory minimum penalties in federal sentencing. Judicature, 94, 6.
Simon, D. (Director). (2013). THE HOUSE I LIVE IN | FilmBuff [Motion Picture].
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The Mandatory Minimum Law: Research Paper. (2022, Apr 07). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/the-mandatory-minimum-law-research-paper
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