In a courtroom, defendants can appeal to reduce their sentences by arguing for prerelease custody, home confinement, or other alternatives. The minimum sentence in federal court is ten percent of the total prison term, or six months. Criminal defense lawyers try to find ways to argue for lower sentences, and negotiating with the federal prosecutor is an integral part of an aggressive defense. The current Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, has given his Office of Attorney Generals nationwide instructions on mandatory minimum sentences.
While mandatory minimum sentences vary by crime type, most crimes have a mandatory prison sentence. Federal crimes involving drugs and the sale of child pornography are both subject to mandatory prison sentences. For child pornography, however, the minimum sentence may be five years. However, the sentence is governed by several factors, including the age of the victim and whether or not coercion, fraud, or force were involved.
The sentencing guidelines are important. For example, the federal Drug Abuse Act expanded the reach of mandatory minimum sentences, and Congress has introduced legislation to prevent this trend. However, mandatory minimum sentences remain controversial and the Sentencing Commission has noted that these laws are inconsistently applied in courts. Regardless of the crime, mandatory minimum sentences can be challenging. The Sentencing Commission report outlined the inconsistent application of federal mandatory minimum statutes. This new legislation authorized courts to use sentencing guidelines without regard to statutory mandatory minimum sentences for less serious drug crimes.
The federal government sets mandatory minimum sentences for most crimes. Unless the crimes involve death or aggravated sexual abuse, the minimum sentence is ten years. But if the offense involves the use of firearms, the minimum sentence is fifteen years. A felony conviction with a firearm adds five to ten years to the underlying crime. Further, if a firearm is involved, a person may receive a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years.
In addition to mandatory minimum sentences, federal crimes can also carry a more severe punishment. The U.S. Sentencing Commission’s Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines often call for harsh prison terms. Despite this, judges are not required to adhere to these guidelines, and imposing a federal crime carries more penalties than a state-level offense. In addition to the minimum punishment, the defendant may also be ordered to repay the US Attorney’s office for costs associated with the prosecution.
Depending on the crime, the minimum sentence for a federal crime varies from offense to offense. A lesser federal crime may be considered a misdemeanor, but a more serious federal offense will result in a felony. Federal felonies fall into five categories: Class A, B, and C. Class A felonies carry maximum prison sentences of five years and up, while a Class E federal crime carries a minimum penalty of $5,000.
Mandatory minimum sentences dehumanize people. They position prosecutors as the ultimate decision makers, and bar judges from taking into account individual circumstances and culpability. Mandatory minimum sentences also prevent judges from considering the individual circumstances of individuals, which are often essential in determining the appropriate punishment for a particular case. They also make mandatory minimum sentences less fair to low-level offenders. However, mandatory minimum sentences have negative consequences for the victims.