Legislation mandating additional reductions
The government can reward an offender’s cooperation by moving in district court for a reduction of the offender’s term of imprisonment below whatever term is required by law. In reality, however, critics argue that the value of that leverage is overstated.The rate of cooperation in cases involving mandatory minimums is comparable to the average rate in all federal cases. Further, only certain defendants in cases involving organized crime—those who are closest to the top of the pyramid—will be able to render substantial assistance. The result is that sentencing reductions go to serious offenders rather than to small-scale underlings.
Prosecutors are not trained at sentencing and do not exercise discretion in a transparent way. Critics also claim that prosecutors, who stand to gain professionally from successful convictions under mandatory minimums, do not have sufficient incentive to exercise their discretion responsibly. Indeed, nowhere else in the criminal justice system does the law vest authority in one party to a dispute to decide what should be the appropriate remedy.
That decision always rests in the hands of a jury, which must make whatever findings are necessary for a punishment to be imposed, or the judge, who must enter the judgment of conviction that authorizes the correctional system to punish the now-convicted defendant. Furthermore, they contend, mandatory minimum sentences do not reduce crime.
Mandatory minimum sentences are the product of good intentions, but good intentions do not always make good policy; good results are also necessary.
Recognizing this fact, there are public officials on both sides of the aisle who support amending some components of federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
But before such reform can proceed, Congress must ask itself: With respect to each crime, is justice best served by having legislatures assign fixed penalties to that crime?