Federal Sentencing Mandatory Minimums
It is extremely difficult, if not frequently impossible, to get around mandatory minimums in a federal criminal case. The only true way around a federal mandatory minimum is by two provisions of the the federal truth in sentencing statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
The first relevant provision is limited to defendants who cooperate with Government, and provide substantial assistance – the statute is 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e). This is a provision that allows a federal judge to go below the mandatory minimums. The requirements of that statute state that “upon motion of the government,” the court shall have the authority to oppose a sentence below a mandatory minimum “to reflect a defendant’s substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed the offense.” The motion must be filed by the Government, (or prosecutor), and the judge must still take the guidelines into account.
If the Government makes a motion under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e), it will frequently be accompanied by a departure recommendation to the court. For example, the Government might recommend a five year sentence, instead of the mandatory minimum of ten years. However, once the Government makes that motion, the court is not bound by that recommendation. Once the court is authorized to go below the mandatory minimum, the court can go as far below that minimum as the court feels appropriate. The court can reduce the sentence all the way down to probation if it wants to.
That is an important nuance – once the motion is filed by the prosecution, and the court grants that motion, the court must take the guideline range into consideration, but can grant whatever variance as they deem appropriate.
The second relevant provision relevant to going below the mandatory minimum is 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f), which is commonly referred to as the “safety valve.” 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f) states that in the case of certain crimes under the controlled substances act, the court shall impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum provided that the government has been afforded to make a recommendation, and provided that the court makes the following findings at sentencing:
- The defendant has a limited criminal record,
- The defendant’s criminal history has no more than 4 points,
- The defendant does not have a prior 3-point offense where the sentence was greater than one year,
- The defendant does not have a prior 2-point offense that was a crime of violence,
- The defendant did not use violence or credible threats of violence in the commission of the current offense,
- The defendant did not possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon in the commission of the current offense,
- The offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury, and
- The defendant was not a leader, organizer, or manager of the offense.
There is a final factor that the Court must find, and it factor is often a sticking point to receiving the safety valve. Prior to the sentencing hearing, the defendant is required to have truthfully provided all information and evidence to the Government concerning the offense or offenses that were part of the common scheme or plan in terms of the commission of the offense.
The statute does say that the fact that the defendant has no relevant or useful information to give to the government other than information that the government is already aware of does not preclude a determination by the court that the defendant has complied. In other words, the defendant is required to give a truthful proffer – a truthful accounting – of what the defendant did. However, the fact that that information does not help the government or it is not information that the government already knew does not mean you do not qualify under that provision.
So, those are the two prominent and primary ways that a judge is able to go below an established mandatory minimum in the federal court. Mandatory minimums do exist for a reason, though, and most of the time a defendant will face that mandatory minimum at the time of sentencing.
With the guidance of a skilled attorney for Criminal Law Cases, you can have the peace of mind that every available option will be explored prior to your sentence date. For more information on Federal Criminal Law in Michigan, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (248) 509-0056 today.