How can the safety valve be used to help avoid a mandatory minimum sentence in a felony case

By May 29, 2014 April 2nd, 2015 blog post

What is a mandatory minimum sentence?

A mandatory minimum is the lowest possible sentence, which the court must give to a person convicted of a crime. The minimum is the lowest possible sentence regardless of the unique circumstances of the offender or the offense. While there are mandatory minimums for many crimes, they most often apply to gun and drug crimes.

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 mandatory minimum requires, but only if the offender or his offense meets certain special 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.

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 prosecutor all that they know about the offense.

If – and only if – the offender meets all five criteria, the court must sentence him 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) to promote public safety by encouraging defendant’s to fully debrief regarding criminal conduct, (3) promotes judicial efficiency by promoting plea bargains as opposed to trials, (4) helps 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.

Michigan Federal Felony Defense Attorney

Who can help you determine if safety valve may be applicable to you or someone you care about? A federal criminal defense attorney in Michigan can help determine the advantages or disadvantages of pursuing a safety valve exception in a prosecution for an offense that carries 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. at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation and confidential case evaluation or complete a Request for Assistance Form and criminal defense specialist will promptly contact you.
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