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Mandatory-minimum sentencing: under an increasing cloud

A case that some critics of mandatory-minimum criminal sentences might think reigns supreme as support for why such sentencing impositions are both unfair and illogical comes from Florida. We touch on that matter because of its central relevance to many defendants facing criminal charges.

In 2010, a Florida woman discharged a firearm in a domestic dispute with her husband. She called the bullet she fired a "warning shot." No injuries resulted.

The outcome: She was prosecuted under a mandatory-minimum scheme that brought her a 20-year prison term. She was released from prison after serving three years pursuant to a plea agreement, but is still under house arrest.

Mandatory-minimum criminal charging and the often lengthy incarceration it yields has come under a strong spotlight in recent years, with withering criticisms issuing from many quarters.

We touched on the subject in a recent blog post, noting the "spirit of compromise and shared purpose" that is now uniting persons of all political persuasions in a clarion call for significant criminal law reforms (please see our March 12 entry).

Common ground is being forged by a collective view that imposing long prison terms for even low-level offenses -- many first-time and nonviolent drug offenders especially have been targeted by mandatory minimums -- is inefficient and inequitable on many fronts.

Mandatory minimums centrally contribute to a mushrooming prison population. The systemic "upkeep" costs they impose are staggeringly high. Evidence from various sources indicates that lengthy lockups -- especially for minor offenses -- do not reduce criminal recidivism.

And, of course, fairness arguments rise to the fore in any debate regarding mandatory minimums.

Although momentum is clearly benefiting from a strong reform-minded tailwind on Capitol Hill presently, many thousands of drug-crime defendants are still receiving lengthy mandatory prison terms.

Questions or concerns regarding any criminal charge and potential sentencing outcome can be directed to a seasoned criminal defense attorney, who can provide counsel and aggressive legal advocacy aimed at mitigating criminal penalties to the fullest extent possible.

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