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Elimination of Minimum Mandatory Sentences

Melvin L. Hill Attorney at Law in Radford, VA, Reviews Penalties

This month, we take a look at the elimination of minimum mandatory sentences. Many Virginians might agree that jail time goes hand in hand with criminal conviction. ‘Do the crime, you serve the time,’ is a common line. In support of this notion, the law enforces minimum mandatory sentences.

Mandatory sentencing laws force a judge to hand down a minimum prison sentence for particular crimes. With prison space at a premium in many parts of the country, there are efforts underway for the elimination of minimum mandatory sentences. Melvin L. Hill Attorney at Law defends clients in and around Roanoke, Virginia, so this is an important subject.

Why Seek to Eliminate Minimum Mandatory Sentences?

If a minimum mandatory sentence is the least amount of time you must serve, why seek to eliminate it? You may see much discussion in the news about sentencing reform. The elimination of minimum mandatory sentences, at the state and federal levels, would help address the country’s mass incarceration crisis. Minimum mandatory sentences directly affect many minority individuals and families, as reported by The Appeal:

“As of June 30, 2019, 41 percent of Black prisoners were serving one or more mandatory minimum sentences, compared with 26 percent of white prisoners, according to a Virginia State Crime Commission report released in January. The commission recommended that the legislature eliminate all mandatory minimums. Virginia has more than 200 offenses that are subject to mandatory minimums.”

Pros and Cons of Eliminating Mandatory Minimum Sentences

As far back as 2018, people were reviewing the pros and cons of mandatory minimum sentences. A post by cites these pros of mandatory minimum sentences, that they:

  1. Can lead to a decrease in serious crime.
  2. Stop unjust sentencing practices.
  3. Eliminate personal bias from all parties.
  4. Protect society for longer time periods.

The same article lists the following cons of mandatory minimum sentences:

  1. Limits the role of a judge
  2. Not always applied as it should.
  3. Can use it to target specific groups of people.
  4. Can use it for coercion.
  5. Does not allow for extenuating circumstances.
  6. Comes with a high cost to taxpayers.
  7. Is not always used for violent crime.

The idea of having to serve a mandatory minimum sentence may appeal to those seeking justice. However, there are disparities based on the type of offense. There is little evidence to show that imposing a minimum mandatory sentence has much of a deterrent effect.

Which Offenses Have Mandatory Minimum Sentences in Virginia?

There are select felony and misdemeanor crimes that involve mandatory minimum sentences in Virginia. Depending on the crime, a mandatory minimum sentence may range from two days’ jail time to life in prison. As the state crime commission reports,

“The majority of felony mandatory minimum sentences are for driving while intoxicated, narcotics, child pornography, and weapon offenses. Nearly all misdemeanor mandatory minimum sentences are for driving while intoxicated offenses. Mandatory minimum offenses comprised a very small proportion of the total charges and convictions in Virginia courts over the past five years.”

Recommending Elimination of Mandatory Minimum Sentences

States and communities across the country struggle with over-populated jails. The most frequent impositions of mandatory minimum sentences in the past five years were for DUI offenses. The Appeal article mentions it can mean the possibility of coercing someone into plea deal or serving an unjust sentence. From a defense standpoint, this has a direct effect on rights and freedoms.

Criminal defense attorneys often look to the discretion of judges and juries to impose an appropriate punishment. The imposition of a minimum mandatory sentence removes this element from discussion. Judges cannot lower these sentences for any sort of extenuating circumstances.

Efforts Continue for the Elimination of Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Across the Commonwealth of Virginia, as in many other states, legislative efforts continue seeking the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences. The momentum is strong for those who advocate for elimination, especially for non-violent crime. Since this has such a profound impact on communities and households, sentencing reform is a significant effort.

Former prosecutor Melvin L. Hill understands what it takes to protect the rights of clients. Contact our firm today to discuss criminal charges you face and get information on the penalties. We serve Roanoke, Virginia, and the surrounding region with excellence in criminal defense. Uphold your freedom by defending your rights.


Contact Melvin L. Hill Attorney at Law, in Roanoke, Virginia, today at (540) 342-1851 for consultation on criminal offenses. Visit our blog on current legal issues affecting your rights and freedom, like the elimination of minimum mandatory sentences.