State and federal criminal statutes that include mandatory sentences require judges to impose identical sentences on all persons convicted of the same offense. Mandatory sentences are state and federal legislators' response to the public perception about judicial leniency or inconsistency in sentencing practices.
However, it's important to note that most crimes don't carry mandatory sentences. If sentencing isn't mandatory, judges may "fit the punishment to the offender" rather than "fit the punishment to the crime." Sentencing structures with substantial ranges of punishments per crime allow judges wide discretion to allow mitigating and aggravating factors to have a great effect on the sentences rendered.
Approaches to Punishment and Sentencing
Competing theories about criminal justice help to fuel the different approaches to sentencing and punishment. These include the severity of punishment rendered, and the specific objective sought by the punishment:
Do Mandatory Sentences Really Deter People from Committing Crimes?
Proponents of mandatory sentences cite deterrence as a motivating factor for mandatory sentencing schemes like Three-Strikes Laws. Opponents of mandatory sentencing argue criminals are not deterred by strict mandatory sentences. Criminals, they say, are deterred more by an increased chance of conviction rather than a longer sentence. One famous example against deterrence stories that medieval pickpockets used to be hanged in London, and the most likely place to get your pocket picked was at a medieval English pickpocket hanging.
Controversies Surrounding Mandatory Sentencing
In 2010, the Sentencing Commission of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts noted that federal sentencing requirements often punish defendants more harshly for crimes that threaten potential violence than for crimes that conclude in actual violence. Other studies have noted the high disparity in severe mandatory sentences for crimes likely to be committed by minorities. Disparities like these sparked public outcry, and ultimately led to President Obama's signing of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.
Learn More About Mandatory Sentences, Uniformity, and Consistency from an Attorney
Mandatory sentencing laws are no longer just an academic topic if you're being investigated for a crime. Mandatory sentencing guidelines typically still allow potential adjustments and departures that an experienced criminal defense attorney can find and secure. If you've been arrested and charged with a federal or a state crime, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney to better understand your situation.