How to Get a Sentence Below a Mandatory Minimum

What is a mandatory minimum sentence? Is it possible to get a sentence less than a mandatory minimum? There is a way, and here is what you need to know.

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A Mandatory Minimum Is the Lowest Sentence a Judge Can Impose

A mandatory minimum is the lowest possible sentence the judge must give a person convicted of a crime. The minimum is the lowest possible sentence regardless of the offender’s unique circumstances or the offense. While mandatory minimums exist for many crimes, they most often apply to gun and drug crimes. One way to avoid a mandatory minimum is to seek a sentence below the minimum based on the “safety valve exception.”

What is a safety valve?

“Safety valve” was created in the federal context in 1994 and is one of the only ways out of a mandatory minimum sentence. Safety valves are laws created by Congress or a state legislature that let courts give an offender less time in prison than the required minimum, but only if the offender or his offense meets specific, unique requirements. Safety valve can be used to avoid a mandatory minimum in a felony offense or a misdemeanor.

Why is there a federal safety valve?

Congress realized that many first-time, low-level, and nonviolent drug offenders were receiving mandatory minimums that did not fit them or their crimes.

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How does the federal safety valve work?

The federal safety valve can be used only if a defendant passes a strict, five-part test. If all five requirements in the law are met, the court must sentence a person below the mandatory minimum, generally by using the federal sentencing guidelines to create a sentence that fits the offender and his crime. The five criteria are:

  1. no one was harmed during the offense,
  2. the offender has little or no history of criminal convictions,
  3. the offender did not use violence or a gun,
  4. the offender was not a leader or organizer of the offense, AND
  5. the offender told the Assistant United States Attorney all they knew about the offense.

If – and only if – the offender meets all five criteria, the United States District Court judge must sentence that person below the mandatory minimum of five years to a term the court feels is appropriate.

What are the benefits of safety valves?

Safety valves have many benefits. Safety valves (1) give courts flexibility to prevent unjust sentences, (2) promote public safety by encouraging defendants to fully debrief regarding criminal conduct, (3) promote judicial efficiency by promoting plea bargains as opposed to trials, (4) help prevent prison overcrowding, (5) avoids the need to release violent offenders early to make room for nonviolent offenders entering the system, (6) save scarce prison space and resources for those who are a real threat to the community, (7) save taxpayers money.

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Who can help you determine if Safety Valve may apply to you or someone you care about so they avoid a mandatory minimum sentence? A top-rated, experienced federal criminal defense attorney in Michigan, such as the lawyers at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C., can help determine the advantages or disadvantages of pursuing a safety valve exception for an offense carrying a mandatory minimum sentence. If you or someone you care about is charged or suspected of a federal misdemeanor or felony offense, please contact LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. for a free consultation today.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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