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The Case of Mandatory Minimum Sentences

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The Case of Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Dear, Representative Beatty, Joyce

Since it was first this was first made, minimum mandatory sentencing and the concept that informs this criminal justice policy has been a subject of big debate between people of Law and regular citizens that are for or against it.  Mandatory sentencing directs that an individual should serve a particular predetermined jail term for particular crimes, most of which are categorized as violent offenses. As such judges handling these cases are bound by the existent laws to hand out these sentences. It is also important to note that these mandatory sentences are directed to the courts through the legislatures and not the judge systems. Despite the arguments for and against the implementation and use of mandatory sentencing within the criminal justice system, the contribution of these laws towards the fight against crimes and violence cannot be overlooked. This will explain the different issues in support of the mandatory minimum sentencing.

According to Bernick and Larkin (3), the implementation of the mandatory minimum sentences in the justice system reflects a common judgment in the society that particular offenses, in relation to the severity and seriousness, require a definite minimum penalty and as such, guaranteeing that all individuals who commit such offenses  are not able to evade a just and equal punishment. While recognizing that a nation with a population over 300 million, will incontrovertibly have divergent views the set mandatory sentences have been based on a wide range of Penological justifications, such as; deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation and education by the legislative arm of the government. This aspect of mandatory sentencing is in its entirety consistent with the appropriate operation of the legislature within the justice system.

        Mandatory sentencing eliminates the extensive injustice and fraudulence that was common in the 20th century.  During this period, the district courts had been vested with the sole discretion of deciding the most appropriate sentence for an offender in any kind of case. This was further made worse by the fact that parole officers had the authority to precisely determine whether an inmate would be released before they had completed their sentences.  Bernick and Larkin state “That division of authority created the inaccurate impression that the public action of the judge at sentencing fixed the oender’s punishment while actually leaving that decision to the judgment of parole officials who act outside of the view of the public”(4). Consequently, the justice system gained a bad reputation reflected by acts of dishonesty and created doubt among the public. This had a negative impact on the justice system by corroding public trust in the justice department as an institution tasked with upholding the law.  

        It is also through the use of mandatory sentencing that the problems of disparity in sentencing and disproportionately lenient verdicts in serious offenses are eliminated. As such, this guarantees that the sentences that are passed on the offender are uniform not just within one state but throughout the country.  This in turn ensures that individuals receive punishment that is commensurate to the crime committed and the moral responsibility through the connection of the crime to the given sentence and not to the individual. According to Bernick and Larkin “…need to use mandatory minimums as a means of addressing sentencing variances …in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in United States v. Booker.45 Booker excised provisions of the Sentencing reform act of 1984 that had made the Sentencing Guidelines binding upon federal judge”(4). This is an important purpose as it also ensures that the criminal justice system provides for tough sanctions on anyone who commits a crime, and thus serving as an example and deterrence to other individuals who might have the notion that they will get away with their socially unacceptable actions.

Mandatory minimum sentences are an important crime deterrence tool because they contain severe punishments that unavoidably have a deterrent effect. The incarceration of offenders puts them out of action for the period they spend in prison, which works in the favor of the public interest. Mandatory minimum sentences have proved to be effective certain areas, especially in drug-related offenses where the likelihood of detection is low. Mandatory sentences allow the community to save the scarce enforcement resources without compromising the deterrent benefit. In the 1980s the United States recorded a higher percentage of crime rates. Based on various studies, it has been observed that the implementation of the mandatory minimum sentences led to a significant reduction of crimes across all categories of crimes. It should be noted that mandatory minimum sentencing first took effect in the 1980s as a strategy to address the trend of growing rates of crimes. In 1990s, the level of crimes reduced considerably, and this reduction was attributed to the enforcement of the mandatory sentencing policy.

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