by John Lovell
If you’ve been charged with a federal crime in the state of Georgia, many federal crimes require a “mandatory minimum” sentence. Mandatory minimum sentences reflect a “one-size-fits-all” form of justice. It is the legislative and executive branches of the government imposing arbitrary sentences without information pertaining to the person convicted or the specifics of the crime. Mandatory minimum sentences strip the judge hearing the case from deciding what is a just and fair sentence.* Mandatory minimum sentences range from 2 years to life without parole. Families Against Mandatory Minimums has compiled a list of crimes and mandatory minimums. These mandatory minimum sentences are not just unique to federal crimes in Georgia, but are mandatory all across the country.
There are some ways to avoid mandatory minimum sentences. First and foremost, don’t commit a crime that exposes you to man mins! Obvious, right? If you are charged, seek an attorney who is familiar with federal law. I have seen many an attorney counsel a client to plea guilty, unaware of the mandatory minimum sentence. I have seen this where a life sentence was imposed. There are few circumstances where a person would voluntarily agree to be sentenced to life in prison, particularly for a drug offense.
Also, it may be possible to negotiate a plea to a charge that does not require a mandatory minimum sentence.
Finally, learn whether an exception applies that allows the judge to NOT impose a mandatory minimum sentence. Next month I’ll write about the most common exception under federal law, the “safety valve.”
*One of many examples: I had the privilege of representing a young man on appeal who received a mandatory life sentence for delivering drugs. There was no dispute but that he was a “mule.” I did not represent him at trial but read the transcript of the sentencing hearing where the conservative, George W. Bush appointed judge, described the mandatory sentence as “savage, cruel and unusual.” I filed a federal habeas motion and was able to get the young man’s sentence reduced to a term of years where he will, in the coming years, be free and not lose his life to a mandatory minimum sentence.