The Unjust Nature of Mandatory Minimums
There is this story that you need to hear. Ten years ago, there was this guy. We will call him Dave. Dave was 72 years old, and he had just been told that he was losing his home. The company that owned the lot on which his trailer sat was forcing him off the property, and he had nowhere to go. He decided there was only one thing he could do.
He crossed the street and walked into the local neighborhood bank. He pulled out a gun, pointed it at the cashier, and demanded money – the money he needed to find a new home.
As the cashier frantically scrambled for the cash, a customer walked in behind Dave. It was as if the presence of another person snapped Dave back to reality. He pushed the gun and the cash back to the teller and told her to call the police.
Fast forward to the courtroom several months later. Dave had already pled guilty to two crimes – attempted robbery and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Now, he was awaiting sentencing.
Dave’s lawyer was asking for leniency. Yes, he demonstrated willful intent to rob a bank. Yes, he used a gun to start the process of robbing the bank. However, he had a change of heart. He did not actually rob the bank in the end (hence, the attempt). He gave the money (and even his gun) back to the teller.
This is Virginia, though. Like in other states, Virginia has something called “mandatory minimums.” According to the Code of Virginia, a mandatory minimum means “that the court shall impose the entire term of confinement, the full amount of the fine, and the complete requirement of community service prescribed by law.” Judges are not allowed to use discretion with sentencing when mandatory minimums exist.
Dave’s lawyer pleaded with the judge. This is not your typical attempted robbery, he was saying. He knew that his fight was a lost cause. After all, a mandatory minimum exists in the Code of Virginia for one of Dave’s crimes – use of a firearm requires three years for a first conviction.
The lawyer’s appeals are going nowhere. The judge, despite acknowledging the unusual nature of this case, says that there is nothing he can do. He tells the lawyer to use his principles in a run for the General Assembly. Only by changing the mandatory minimum laws can something be done.
The Unintended Consequences of Mandatory Minimums:
Mandatory minimums started out with good intentions, probably. They were designed to make sure that criminals who deserve long sentences for serious crimes were given long sentences. And, perhaps, if potential criminals learned of these harsh sentences, they would think twice before committing such crimes.
However, any time something becomes mandatory, you create an environment for unjust sentences as well. The judge in a criminal case, especially when he's serving as the factfinder, should be able to punish the defendant based on a variety of factors, and based on the statutory range of punishment. Here’s Dave. He was 72. He started out to commit his two crimes, which he should be punished for, but he did not carry them out, which should be acknowledged. The law, in certain cases, does not allow for that, though. It is a shame.
The defense attorney did what he could. He did what you would want a defense attorney to do. If you want a defense attorney like this, no matter what charges you are facing, call or e-mail today for a free consultation!
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