What is a Mandatory Minimum Sentence?

In most criminal cases in Massachusetts the judge has discretion to impose a sentence as he or she sees fit, ranging from no jail time at all up to the maximum allowed by the law. A sentence for assault and battery, for example, ranges widely - from probation, to one day in jail, to two-and-a-half years in jail.

The length of the sentence imposed in most cases depends on a variety of factors, including the circumstances of the particular crime, especially whether anyone was hurt or endangered, your criminal record (or lack of criminal record), and the effectiveness of the prosecutor and the defense attorney in advocating their respective positions . . . not to mention the sentencing judge’s habits and maybe even his or her mood on a given day!

For offenses that carry a mandatory-minimum sentence, on the other hand, the judge has no discretion to choose a sentence below a certain level. Once it is determined that the person is guilty of the crime -- either after a trial or a guilty plea – the judge must sentence the person to the minimum length of time specified by law. Mandatory minimums are common in drug sentencing schemes, where sentence lengths correlate to amounts of substance seized or the number of prior convictions for similar offenses. For example, a drug trafficking statute provides that for a person convicted of trafficking between 36 and 100 grams, no sentence imposed “shall be for less than a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 3 ½ years, and a fine of not less than $85,000 nor more than $50,000 may be imposed but not in lieu of the mandatory minimum term of imprisonment.” In other words, a judge may not sentence the defendant to any less time than 3 ½ years in prison. Moreover, that person must serve every day of the 3½ years; no parole, work release, etc. Minimum mandatory sentences are also found in statutes prohibiting operation under the influence, certain assaults and other crimes.

Henry Fasoldt has represented many people accused of crimes that carry mandatory-minimum sentences. Recently, he secured a lower sentence for a client charged with Possession of a Firearm - a crime that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 18 months in jail.

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