Minimum mandatory sentencing has existed in the US for decades but until recently
these laws targeted very specific acts such as the assassination of the president. During the late 1980s Congress passed additional minimum mandatory sentencing laws designed to punish those who possessed, sold, manufactured, or imported drugs. Sentences vary by the type of drug, the individual’s involvement in the sale or manufacture of the drug, and their place within a criminal enterprise related to the manufacture and distribution of drugs. Over the years, these sentencing guidelines have been expanded to address other criminal activity including:
- Fire Arm Possession during the commission of a crime
- Ownership, manufacture, or distribution of Child Pornography
- Sexual Trafficking of a Minor
- Three Strikes Law
- Various Murder Convictions
- Bank Robbery
Each offence carries its own minimum sentence and all sentences are increased if a weapon was present during the commission of the crime. Under these sentencing guidelines the judge must impose at least the minimum incarceration time established by Congress unless the defendant has provided substantial assistance to law enforcement officials or requested a variance due to lower levels of assistance.
The US Attorney’s Office can file a motion to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum when the defendant provides substantial assistance to law enforcement agencies on an ongoing investigation. They alone determine what is or is not substantial assistance in any given case. Unfortunately, substantial assistance often involves real and significant danger to the defendant and his or her family. Many defendants take this option without fully appreciating the risks and potential ramifications of their choice. For this reason it is imperative that a defendant be represented by a board certified federal criminal defense attorney who can provide expertise and council on this matter.
Less Than Substantial Assistance
No defendant may provide assistance that is deemed not to meet the threshold of substantial and therefore the US Attorney’s Office will not file the motion for sentence reduction. An experienced federal criminal defense attorney understands that their client may still benefit from their cooperation and file a motion requesting a variance to the sentencing guidelines based on the level of assistance the client did provide. The judge reviews the information and may choose to impose a sentence below the minimum guidelines.
No defendant should face the choice whether or not to provide substantial assistance without the most experienced counsel available. Only a board certified criminal defense attorney can provide the level of expertise needed to obtain the best outcomes within the federal court system.