What are “Mandatory Minimums?”

Brandon WaltripCriminal Defense

In this blog I examine mandatory minimum sentences as they apply to criminal charges. Mandatory minimums are the result of state legislatures taking control of the judicial system. Some have argued they are a response to “activist” judges, or unruly juries. Nonetheless, mandatory minimums litter the landscape of the current criminal defense system and must understood and dealt with by clients and attorneys alike.

At their heart, mandatory minimums, are  a particular sentence that a client must serve, when convicted, regardless of whether a judge, or a jury, believes it is appropriate. Importantly, mandatory minimums have the added effect that every day of the mandatory sentence must be served. For example, if a driver is charged with, and convicted, of Driving Under the Influence and had a Blood Alcohol Level greater than .15, but less than .20, than that driver must serve a mandatory minimum of five days in jail. Should the driver have a blood alcohol level greater than .20 then a mandatory minimum of ten days in jail applies. This can greatly determine how a client wants to proceed with a case.

Another type of mandatory minimum is the sentencing enhancement mandatory minimum. In reality, all mandatory minimums enhance a sentence in one way or another, but some are actually charges, which when clients are convicted, have a solitary effect, which is to enhance the punishment with a mandatory minimum. The best example of this is the Use of a Firearm charge. If a client is charged with and convicted of Use of  Firearm while in Commission of a Felony, a mandatory three year sentence is required regardless of how many months or years they may receive for any other charges. A second conviction and any subsequent conviction for Use of a Firearm adds an additional five years per charge. This means a person charged with and convicted of three counts of Use of a Firearm would be required to serve every day of a thirteen year sentence regardless of whether a judge or a jury wished to suspend any portion of that time.

You maybe thinking, what is the real problem? If a person goes out and commits a crime, and it happens to have  a mandatory minimum, then they should have to serve the time. The difficulty, is that prosecutors and law enforcement decide what charges a person receives. This is not always exactly tied to what happened, and is often done to stack the deck against a client to force a plea deal. This can greatly determine the outcome of the case. If a person is charged with one count of robbery and seven counts of use of a firearm, regardless of the evidence, they are in effect facing thirty three years of prison. It is not uncommon for juries to request a sentence well below those required by a mandatory minimum, but the law does not allow it. If convicted, they must serve each day of that mandatory time.

In all, mandatory minimums are a certain sentence that a client is required to serve if they are convicted of a particular crime. If you are considering hiring an attorney, be sure they understand the charges you are facing and any mandatory minimums that may affect the outcome of the case. It is unfortunate that state legislatures have taken the power of deciding a punishment of a crime away from judges and juries; however, that is the state of the law. A good attorney will understand that and assist his or her client in navigating around potential mandatory minimums. If you have been charged with a crime carrying a mandatory minimum sentence consider hiring Brandon C. Waltrip, Esq., or one of the attorneys at Collins | Waltrip, PC. Learn more about Mandatory Minimums by clicking HERE.