HOW MUCH DISCRETION DO FEDERAL JUDGES REALLY HAVE TO REDUCE MINIMUM MANDATORY SENTENCES

Your favorite Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney recently received this question about the elasticity of sentencing guidelines; just how much leeway do federal Judges really have to reduce sentences under the sentencing guidelines or minimum mandatory requirements?

Renoir's Baker Awaiting his Sentencing, shows the fear of what a Judge may do in federal district court in Tampa florida.
Renoir, Baker Awaits Sentence,1877

My husband is facing a federal drug case. The amount of drugs involved carries a long minimum mandatory sentence. 

He’s thinking of pleading guilty. If he pleads guilty is there any way that the Judge can sentence my husband to a term that’s under the minimum mandatory? 

He’s already lost his job and now it looks like he’ll lose his freedom.

There are two different hurdles facing your husband. As you’re know there’s the minimum mandatory jail term triggered by the amount of drugs, but at the same time the facts of the case, prior convictions, aggravating factors and mitigating factors will also bring about a calculation of probable jail time based on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The Guidelines indicate that a Federal Judge should sentence a Defendant to whichever term is higher. In other words if the minimum mandatory sentence if ten years but the Sentencing Guidelines call for thirteen years, then the higher term if thirteen years is likely to be imposed.

For a long time many Federal Judges complained that their role in the sentencing process had been reduced to merely crunching numbers. Yet fairly recently the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly told Federal District Judges that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are advisory, meaning that Federal Judges may impose less time when necessitated by the facts of a case or the personal characteristics of a Defendant. So it’s now possible to successfully attack the Federal Guidelines as applied to individuals.

Judges have less ability to go under minimum mandatory sentences. But under the law there are some ways to avoid a minimum mandatory sentence. For example, there is a provision for reducing sentences based on substantial assistance or based on the safety valve provision for Defendants with no prior record who accept responsibility for their crime, which allows the Federal Guidelines to trump the minimum mandatory sentence. 

In minimum mandatory cases not brought in Federal Court but by the State of Florida, it’s deplorable that Prosecutors often possess much more discretion than Judges. Clearly, even in Florida cases it’s important to understand how Guideline Scoresheets and Guidelines are calculated before resolving a case. Even good people are destroyed by minimum mandatory sentencing including Florida Prosecutors in Tampa Bay and Pinellas County who continue to demand that judges ruin lives needlessly and who have a long history of failing justice, see minimum mandatory sentences corrupt Prosecutors.