One of the worst ideas in all of criminal law is the mandatory minimum prison sentence for a particular crime. In criminal law, you have the prosecutor who reviews the case and represents the state. His/her job is to prosecute people who are guilty of crimes, present the case on behalf of the state and get a reasonable and appropriate sentence. The defense attorney’s job is to prepare the case on behalf of the defendant- get the case dismissed or reduced or win the case at trial if there is insufficient evidence or legal deficiencies or try and obtain the best sentence for the defendant if the state can prove the defendant committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge’s job is to preside over the case, make sure both sides follow the rules and sentence the defendant to an appropriate sentence if the defendant pleads guilty or loses at trial. Those three individuals are the best equipped to assume those roles and recommend or decide what an appropriate sentence is because they know the most about the individual defendants and the specific circumstances of each case.
Mandatory minimum prison sentences are dictated by legislators in the state capital who know absolutely nothing about the details of each defendant and each case and are often pushing legislation with an eye on reelection. As a result, the discretion is taken away from the judge who hears about the case from both sides and is trained to make an informed, unbiased decision, and that discretion is placed squarely into the hands of the state or the uninformed legislature. When that happens you have defendants who face 15 year mandatory minimum prison sentences for illegally obtaining pain pills because they cannot afford them and do not have insurance although they have the same medical problems as people with money, who have health insurance and get the same pain pills through a doctor. When that happens, you have lawful gun owners who believe they used their gun responsibly in a self-defense situation who are forced to plead guilty and become convicted felons in order to get a better sentence and avoid a 3, 10 or 20 year mandatory minimum prison sentence if they risk a trial and the six strangers on the jury decide against them.
Mandatory minimum prison sentences are a perfect example of typical government overreaching with the result being bigger government, more taxpayer money wasted on the criminal justice system and completely illogical results dictated by government officials who have no idea what is going on in specific cases.
There may be some hope to put a dent in the size of big government and slow down the tremendous waste of taxpayer money on the war on drugs and prisons and many other related areas. Senator Pat Leahy, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, recently called for an end to mandatory minimum prison sentences at the state and federal levels. It probably will not happen any time soon as government is not real quick to reduce the size and reach of government, but at least someone is acknowledging how wasteful and ill-advised mandatory minimum prison sentences are.