Mandatory minimum sentences under attack; changes to federal guidelines could impact white collar crime

The U.S. Department of Justice is concerned about the strain mandatory minimum sentences have put on the federal penitentiary system, according to Congressional testimony last week, Main Justice reported.

Mandatory minimum sentences are just one difference between state and federal crimes. A Miami criminal defense lawyer experienced in handling federal charges should always be called to represent anyone facing criminal charges in federal court. Mandatory minimum sentences often require harsh penalties for drug crimes and other federal crimes.

For example, there are more than 170 mandatory minimum sentences under federal law. And, while Congressional testimony did not reveal which sentences the government feels are unnecessary, authorities will seek to revise some of those sentencing laws.

But the debate over mandatory minimums also has broader implications: Federal prosecutors are concerned the strain placed on the system permits undue leniency for white collar crimes in Miami and other non-violent federal charges in South Florida and throughout the nation. Federal authorities also blamed the increase in real estate fraud and other bank fraud cases as a driver of the increasing federal prison population.

Meanwhile, a memo has been issued to federal prosecutors, giving them more flexibility in making decisions regarding charges or in recommending sentences for convicted criminals.

There is some concern the move will create a greater disparity between sentences for the same crime –if a prosecutor’s opinion is largely responsible for a recommendation, two defendants convicted of the same crime could more frequently be sentenced to widely variant lengths of time behind bars.

While acknowledging that Congress was unlikely to take action regarding mandatory minimums, Jay Rorty of the American Civil Liberty Union, said the minimums “create excessive prosecutorial discretion, which is exercised in an arbitrary manner and used to coerce defendants into relinquishing their constitutional rights and punish defendants when they exercise those rights.”

A representative of the Fraternal Order of Police testified in support of mandatory minimums while a representative of the American Bar Association, which represents trial lawyers, called mandatory minimums “the antithesis of rational sentencing policy.”