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What are mandatory minimum sentences?

On Behalf of | May 31, 2022 | Criminal Defense

If someone faces criminal charges, the details are often the most important aspect of the case. This is why laws list a range of penalties, depending on the severity of the offense. That is also the courts consider both mitigating and aggravating circumstances.

However, you may have heard that some charges come with a “mandatory minimum” sentence. What does that mean exactly?

A look at the history

Essentially, mandatory minimum sentences are automatic prison sentences. Instead of considering all of the details of an individual case, the crime committed would require courts to issue a specific prison sentence. For drug trafficking charges, these mandatory sentences could range between 25 months and 225 months, depending on the substance and the amount.

The concept of mandatory minimum sentences took hold in the 1970s, at the height of the “War on Drugs” in the United States. Therefore, many of the mandatory sentences are related to drug offenses. The range of offenses with mandatory minimum sentences only increased over the years.

There is a key difference between state and federal cases

So, which offenses could leave someone facing a mandatory minimum sentence? The answer varies significantly depending on whether an individual faces state or federal charges.

For example:

  • State: In North Carolina, the only offense that carries a mandatory minimum sentence is drug trafficking. Even then, state lawmakers passed a law that became known as The North Carolina First Step Act in 2020. The law gave courts more discretion and decision in certain drug trafficking cases, allowing them to avoid issuing a mandatory minimum sentence. Instead of automatic sentences, courts could consider the factors unique to a specific case.
  • Federal: Federal law requires mandatory minimum sentences for more offenses than our state laws. Some of the most common offenses with mandatory minimum sentences include drug crimes, firearm offenses and sex offenses.

In some cases, it is possible to be relieved of mandatory minimum sentences at the federal level, but it is often challenging.

Regardless of the charges someone faces, this is one of the reasons why it is critical to obtain experienced defense. Facing charges is not the same as facing a conviction, and it is important to fight charges to protect the future.