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Critics of Mandatory Minimum Sentences Say They Don’t Enhance Public Safety

The proposal to bring back mandatory minimum sentences to the state of Pennsylvania for certain crimes has drawn both praise and criticism. A new piece of legislation making its way through the state House of Representatives would reinstitute mandatory minimums for offenses involving drugs, children or the elderly.

The state Supreme Court found several mandatory minimum laws unconstitutional in 2015. But this is not the biggest reason critics have been so vocal in their opposition to the bill. They believe there is no evidence that mandatory minimums enhance public safety in any way.

What effect do mandatory minimum sentences have, if any?

According to state crime statistics (which are available through 2015), violent crimes in Pennsylvania stayed at the same levels in 2015 compared to previous years, while drug and property crime rates declined. This was after the state Supreme Court outlawed certain mandatory minimum sentences.

Local statistics from larger urban areas like Philadelphia and Harrisburg also indicate crime rates for serious offenses in these cities have dropped. In fact, crime rates in Philadelphia are now lower than they have been since at least 1970 — before mandatory minimums existed. It would thus seem there is no correlation between mandatory minimum sentences and rates of criminal activity.

Critics also do not like the way mandatory minimums impose a “one-size-fits-all” approach on courts when it comes to determining sentences. Under such a system, the facts and circumstances of a case might not matter — the offender would get the same minimum sentence regardless.

Prosecutors argue that mandatory minimums are necessary to keep judges that are too lenient in check. However, the state already has sentencing guidelines that judges follow, and they use them an estimated 90 percent of the time. In the 7 percent of cases in which a judge recommends sentences below these guidelines, it is typically at the prosecutor’s suggestion.

If you’ve been accused of a crime in Pennsylvania, it’s important to know that you have rights. For the guidance and advice you need, work with experienced Berks County criminal defense lawyer David R. Eshelman.


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