What Are Mandatory Minimum Sentences?

Mandatory Minimum SentencesAs you likely know, conviction of a criminal offenses subjects you to a range of potential penalties. The more serious the offense, the more likely it is you will face a period of incarceration as part of those potential penalties. What many people do not realize is that some offenses carry mandatory minimum sentences if convicted. If you have recently been charged with an offense in the State of Tennessee that qualifies for a mandatory minimum sentence it is imperative that you understand what that means for you if you are convicted.

Mandatory minimum sentences have been used by the federal criminal justice system for some time and are now becoming more popular with state systems as well. When an offense carries a mandatory minimum sentence it simply means that if you are convicted of the offense you must be sentenced to a minimum period of time in jail or prison and/or a minimum fine. This differs from most sentencing ranges in that the court does not have complete discretion when handing down your sentence.

Because there are numerous offenses that include mandatory minimum sentencing at the federal level, it is easier to use one of those offenses to illustrate how mandatory minimums work. Whenever an offense involves cocaine, for example, in an amount greater than 500 grams, you are subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, or life in federal prison, depending on the exact charge and whether it is your first or subsequent offense. A first offense for manufacturing, distribution, or possession with intent to distribute where no death or serious bodily injury results carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison. This does not mean the judge cannot sentence you to more time in prison. It only mans the judge cannot sentence you to less time in prison.

When no mandatory minimum sentencing applies, a judge might have the discretion to sentence you to 5-10 years in prison, for example. In that case, the judge could sentence you to the same five years; however, the judge could suspend your entire sentence and place you on probation instead. The lack of discretion is the difference between an offense that carries a mandatory minimum sentence and one that does not.

Because a judge cannot sentence you to less than a mandatory minimum, where applicable, it is crucial for you to know if the offense with which you are charged carries a mandatory minimum sentence. If it does, and you are convicted, you will be required to do at least the minimum time in jail or prison, making a strong defense that prevents a conviction even more important.

If you are currently facing criminal charges in the State of Tennessee it is in your best interest to consult with the experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorneys at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby to make sure you understand the potential consequences of a conviction. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.


Dinah Michael