The Dire Effects of Mandatory Minimum Sentences on American Justice

Brad Schlesinger at Outside the Beltway with a cogent take on how mandatory minimum sentences give too much power in justice to prosecutors and help kill trial by jury.

Foter.com / CC BY-SAFoter.com / CC BY-SA

The heart of the matter:

By passing laws with fixed-minimum sentences for almost all crimes, legislatures, beginning largely in the 1980′s, removed discretion over offender sentencing from judges and handed prosecutors the power to determine which sentence a defendant will receive. Judges have no power to override the mandatory prison terms these laws carry, regardless of the individual circumstances of each case. This is especially troubling because of the overly punitive penalties these laws carry. Even worse, when a case does goes to trial, the jury doesn’t even know how much time a defendant faces.

The prosecutor alone chooses whether to charge the accused, which charges to file, whether to drop charges, and whether or not a plea on lesser charges will be offered, outside of any judicial oversight. These unilateral discretionary decisions “often predetermine the outcome of a case since the sentencing judge has little, if any, discretion in determining the length, nature, and severity of the sentence.” This results in radically different sentencing outcomes between the sentence a defendant receives who loses at trial compared to one who pleads guilty.

These enormously different outcomes effectively coerce criminal defendants into pleading guilty. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws give prosecutors the leverage and superior bargaining position needed to coax accused citizens, many of whom are completely innocent, into surrendering a fundamental right for a perceived benefit– a significantly lesser sentence for forgoing a jury trial and pleading guilty.

If that dynamic makes you mad, you might want to look into Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Everyone loves prosecutors. They speak for the victims. They represent the people. They are our Harvey Dents (before the scarring).

    Give them the tools to pad their resumes do their jobs.

  • Irish||

    Oh my God, fuck you Atlantic.

    The Danger of Telling Poor Kids That College Is the Key to Social Mobility

    Higher education should be promoted to all students as an opportunity to experience an intellectual awakening, not just increase their earning power.

    College should be “sold” to all students as an opportunity to experience an intellectual awakening. All students should learn that privilege is connected to the pursuit of passions. People are privileged to follow their hearts in life, to spend their time crafting an identity instead of simply surviving.

    And when those people end up with $100,000 in college debt with a useless major and virtually no future, I'm sure they'll gleefully thank you for giving them four years of 'intellectual awakening' for a lifetime of debt repayment and poverty.

    Of course, the Atlantic is read almost exclusively by wealthy progressives, so who cares if some poor people have to have their lives destroyed so a prog can pat himself on the back?

    I especially love the ivory tower stupidity of thinking that college is necessary to 'craft an identity.' So I guess people who work in the trades have no identity and are just brainless automatons.

  • trshmnstr||

    College should be “sold” to all students as an opportunity to experience an intellectual awakening. All students should learn that privilege is connected to the pursuit of passions. People are privileged to follow their hearts in life, to spend their time crafting an identity instead of simply surviving.

    This makes me want to kick puppies. College should be sold to nobody. If a high school student decides to go to college, they should be apprised of the fact that they are about to make a 6-figure commitment, and they should be shown salary tables for their major, including a tuition amortization chart and statistics on how likely it is that they will get a job out of school. They used to have guidance counselors do such a thing... i guess that's not politically correct anymore.

  • ||

    This is just another form of their projection. Their life experiences are the life experiences every single person in the entire world should have. It doesn't matter if those people are completely different; the sociopathic scum who write articles like this are incapable of empathizing or understanding anything even the slightest bit different from their own lives. And they are happy to tell you about it in article after article.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Their life experiences are the life experiences every single person in the entire world should have.

    Bingo - the old "my life is great and this is how I did it" - but of course the vast majority of people don't have wealthy parents with contacts who can make an English degree actually pay by allowing people to write this tripe.

    & maybe some people are actually moral and think - one of my jobs in life is to not make other people pay for me - so in the end, ensuring your degree leads to some economic success is a moral decision for some.

    A better decision than say lawyer or journalist anyway.

  • Marshall Gill||

    If that dynamic makes you mad, you might want to look into Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

    Going Postal works pretty well too.

  • ||

    removed discretion over offender sentencing from judges and handed prosecutors the power to determine which sentence a defendant will receive

    The politicians and prosecutors (who are often future politicians) see this as a major, major feature. Not a bug.

    We don't have a justice system, we have a grist mill. The lives of the poor and foolish are ground up to make meal for the prosecutors' future careers. That's it. And no one cares because anyone with any money or influence will make sure they or theirs don't get ground up.

  • RishJoMo||

    This makes a LOT of sense dude. WOw.

    www.AnonGlobal.tk

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