Ways to Avoid Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences

In federal court, there are minimum mandatory sentences imposed for specific types of offenses including drug charges involving cocaine or methamphetamine, crimes committed with a firearm, sexual assault, and child pornography.

When a defendant is found guilty of the charges against them their sentence will be no less than the minimum required by law, though it could be more. There are two exceptions to the minimum mandatory sentencing requirements.

Substantial Assistance

This exception may be applied when a defendant provides substantial assistance to prosecutors that leads to the investigation or charging of others. The decision to apply this exception rests solely with the prosecutor who must make a motion with the court to allow this reduction.

Safety Valve

This exception is requested by the defendant and is applied only to drug offenses. It is allowed when:

  • The defendant has no prior criminal history.
  • The defendant did not use or possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon during the course of the offense.
  • The offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury to any person.
  • The defendant was not an organizer, leader, or manager of the criminal activity and did not supervise others during the course of the offense.
  • The defendant is not part of an ongoing criminal organization or enterprise.
  • The defendant has cooperated with the prosecutor and law enforcement officials.

In essence, the court is stating that it will give the defendant the benefit of the doubt that this is an isolated incident. This exception is most often applied in situations where a spouse or other family member is on the periphery of the criminal activity, is not actively involved, but has still been charged with a crime.

The defendant must prove that he or she qualifies for this exception. The best way to achieve that goal is to hire an experienced federal attorney to who understands the requirements and can argue for the exception. If successful the defendant’s sentence is either reduced or there is no incarceration.

These exceptions are the only way to avoid the federal minimum sentencing requirements. The first exception is at the sole discretion of the prosecutor. The second is requested by the defendant whose best chance of success is hiring an experienced federal attorney.

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