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Mandatory Minimum Federal Sentences in New York

Since the Supreme Court, in the Booker case, ruled that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are no longer mandatory, giving federal judges broad discretion in sentencing, Congress has taken much of that discretion away by tying sentencing judges’ hands through the enactment mandatory minimum crimes. Assistant United States Attorneys will often use mandatory minimums to put pressure on a defendant to cooperate.  There is a movement to repeal mandatory minimums, but the hardliners are winning the war. Sentencing advocacy by an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can often persuade the prosecutor to drop the mandatory minimums.

Pity the unfortunate defendant who is charged with a crime carrying a mandatory minimum sentence.  These are offenses which carry a minimum sentence, which in most circumstances the sentencing judge must impose.  Even if he believes that such a sentence is too harsh, there is usually nothing he can do about it.  The only exceptions are when the defendant cooperates with the government and gets a 5K letter and, in drug cases, when the defendant qualifies for safety valve.

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Over the last several years, there has been a big increase in mandatory minimum offenses.  There was a time when the only ones were drug crimes.  Now they include gun offenses, identity theft, child pornography and sexual exploitation of a child.  These laws put enormous power in the hands of young prosecutors and tie the hands of judges.  Some mandatory minimums are huge.  In federal drug cases, the mandatory minimum is often ten years, sometimes twenty.  In child pornography cases, the mandatory minimum can be 15 years.  In certain gun cases, the mandatory minimum is seven years when a defendant is found guilty of brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a drug crime.  That’s seven years on top of the sentence for the drug conviction.  In aggravated identity theft cases, the mandatory minimum is two years over and above any other sentence.  In instances where the defendant has prior felony convictions, the mandatory minimums can be doubled or tripled if the Assistant United States Attorney elects to file a prior felony information. 

Our New York Criminal Defense Attorney can advise you on how best to proceed

The prosecutor, not the judge, decides whether to charge someone with a mandatory minimum crime or not.  Even when the indictment charges a defendant with such a crime, the prosecutor can often be persuaded to permit him to dispose of the case with a plea to a non-mandatory minimum crime or to one carrying a lower minimum sentence.  If a criminal defense lawyer decides that the evidence is too strong to take a case to trial, he can do his client a tremendous service by persuading the prosecutor to let his client plead to a non-mandatory minimum crime.  The window of opportunity to do this is often very narrow, and the lawyer must act very quickly in order to take advantage of it.  If he waits too long, the evidence against his client may often get much stronger as others line up at the prosecutor’s door to cooperate against the lawyer’s client.  It happens in almost every large multi-defendant case.  The vision to see and the agility to seize these opportunities come with experience.  This is but one reason why someone charged with a federal crime is best served by an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer.  It can make a huge difference.

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