1 minute read

Sentencing: Mandatory and Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Types Of Mandatory Penalties, History And Legality Of Mandatory Minima, Impact Of Mandatory Minima On Prosecution And Sentencing Severity

Supporters of mandatory sentencing assert that these laws achieve deterrence and incapacitation with more certainty than sentencing under other structures. Mandatory penalties are designed to eliminate judicial discretion in choosing among various punishment options, under the assumption that judges are too lenient and that offenders are therefore neither generally deterred from crime nor specifically deterred because some are not incarcerated long enough to prevent persistent criminality (Shichor and Sechrest).

Mandatory sentencing laws require judges to sentence the convicted offender to specific prison term of a fixed number of years. Usually this means that an offender must serve at least some absolute minimum prison term before becoming eligible for parole (some laws also preclude parole). The requirement is triggered when the offender is convicted of a particular charge. Although this approach may appear simple and straightforward, there is wide variation in how these laws are applied. The variation is mostly attributable to the exercise of discretion by criminal justice actors other than judges: prosecutors and parole boards. A prosecutor's decision whether to charge a crime to which a mandatory sentence will attach varies depending on local prosecutorial charging policies and plea bargaining practices, and the actual charge of conviction is somewhat flexible in a plea bargain. Decisions to release an offender from prison can depend on whether the particular statute allows parole reductions to apply to the mandatory sentence once it is handed down, and on whether "good time" or work release credits may apply. It is often said that discretion removed from one component of the justice system will reappear elsewhere, and mandatory sentencing is the prime example (McCoy).



Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972).

People v. Romero, 917 P.2d 628 (1996).

Roberts v. Louisiana, 428 U.S. 325 (1976).

Rummel v. Estelle, 445 U.S. 263 (1980).

Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280 (1976).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law