Mandatory Minimum Sentences
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Mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines require defendants successfully convicted of a crime to be sentenced to a minimum length of time in prison. They eliminate judicial discretion in the determination of punishments for particular crimes. In cases involving mandatory minimum sentences, judges cannot reduce the sentence for any reason. Juries determining guilt or innocence in mandatory minimum sentences are often not informed of the mandatory sentence in order to prevent sentencing requirements from interfering in their decision. Mandatory minimum sentencing was initially developed by Congress and applied to the use and possession of marijuana. California's "Three Strikes" rule is one example of a mandatory minimum sentencing requirement.
Mandatory minimum sentences are a controversial topic. Advocates for mandatory minimum sentences believe they provide a deterrent mechanism. Rational individuals evaluating the decision to commit a crime should be less likely to act if they believe their conviction will generate a severe penalty. Mandatory minimum sentencing also promotes fairness because all criminals committing a particular crime receive the same punishment. However, opponents of mandatory minimum sentences believe judges should be granted full control over the sentencing process. They criticize the process' exclusion of extraneous factors or personal testimonials in the sentencing process. Opponents also believe that deterrence efforts should focus upon improving the capture rate of criminals than punishing those caught.