Mandatory Sentencing

Mandatory sentencing is a decision reached by a court where judicial prudence is restricted by law. Normally, punishment must be passed to people convicted of certain crimes and with at least a minimum number of years in prison. Laws regarding mandatory sentencing differ from country to country; in common law jurisdictions, it is primarily an area of interest as jurisdictions in civil law normally prescribe maximum and minimum sentences for every type of crime in explicit laws (Frankel & Marvin, 1973).

Mandatory sentencing has brought a lot of arguments among different people. Some are for the opinion that mandatory sentencing should be enacted to help reduce the rate of crime in our societies today; others are against the enactment of the mandatory sentencing. Adherents of mandatory sentencing hold the fact that it decreases crime; it ensures uniformity in sentencing and is just for any criminal. Repeat offenders and potential criminals are expected to shun crime since they have to be sure of their punishment if they are caught.

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Mandatory sentencing opponents point to studies that show criminals are effectively deterred more by raising their conviction chances, rather than increasing the prison term if they are convicted. Empirical literature suggests that compulsory minimum sentencing shifts authority from judges to the prosecutors. Decisions on charges to bring against a defendant are reached by prosecutors who are part of the executive branch; branch of the judicial system have no function in the sentencing (Nagel & Ilene, 1990). Challengers of compulsory sentencing disputes that it is not the appropriate role of a prosecutor but of a judge to apply authority given a case particular facts (e.g. whether a drug defendant was a low-level participant or a kingpin). Additionally, some critics hold true that treatment is more lucrative than long sentences.

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Prior to enactment of Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, criminal activities were rampant. The stipulations of this act provided that similar crimes should be awarded similar punishment. The rationale behind this Act is that double standards should not be applied to deal with matters of the same episode. This means that with the Act, justice was possible to find. Moreover, the Congress also enacted compulsory minimum sentences as a remedy to certain types of crimes. It also increased and made more severe, punishment for repeat offenders. Though critics note some flaws with the current system the system has yielded good result in curbing crime. For instance, the crime rate dropped drastically for a whole decade with effect from 1991. However, as much as the current system discourages the use of double standards in matters of law, it has been criticized on several occasions for allegedly promoting double standards it purports to prevent. The criticism has emanated from the perceived unfairness in prescribing punishment to related offenses. For instance, the punishment for crack cocaine is a hundred times stricter than the punishments for powdered cocaine. This is based on the fact that at the time the law was being enacted, crack cocaine poised much danger than powdered cocaine.

A good legal system should be dynamic to accommodate the changes taking place in the society (Stith et al, 1998). The Act has therefore been blamed for rigidity. Additionally, liberal critics have argued that there has been a disproportionate cruelty on part of non-violent crime sentencing laws. Critics perceive that the sentencing seeks to unfairly exploit the poor and the marginalized few. Judges have also complained that the new system denies them the jurisdiction to offer appropriate sentencing. Finally, critics agree that crime has reduced significantly with the enactment of the Act. They have however argued against the Act on the grounds of promoting overcrowding in jails. To this effect, the number of inmates had increased to more than 2 million by the year 1999 (Hirsch & Andrew, 1976). The correlation between the increase in the number of inmates and the reduced crime rate is also vague. The 1990s drop in crime rate may be attributable to impressive economic growth, better police tactics and the eventual end of crack cocaine contagion.

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In a nutshell, compulsory minimum sentencing has its own pros and cons. It has yielded satisfactory results in terms of crime reduction. However, it has not been without some flaws viz. overcrowding of inmates in the jails. The hypotheses held by both sides to the argument are therefore valid to some extent. It would be repugnant to the rule of law for judges to award too lenient punishments. It would also be morally wrong and ethically incorrect for judges to award very harsh punishments. The rationale behind this argument is that judges should be given reasonable jurisdiction to enable them to deliver fair judgments. Basically, each country has some forms of mandatory sentences for instance life sentences for some crimes. Even in this phenomenon, there are some conceived injustices where crimes of small magnitudes may result in felonies spending the rest of their lives in jail without giving them a chance to reform. In conclusion, the original purpose of law should not be compromised; the law should be aimed at providing justice among members of the society but not exploiting them

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