How to Avoid Mandatory Minimum Penalties in Federal Court

A "mandatory minimum penalty" refers to a federal law that requires a judge to sentence a person convicted of that law to a specified minimum term of imprisonment in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. There are approximately 200 federal laws that carry a mandatory minimum penalty. According to statistics published by the United States Sentencing Commission, there are primarily two ways to avoid a mandatory minimum sentence.

The first way is called the safety valve provision, and it has the following five requirements:

1. The person to be sentenced does not have more than one criminal history point under the federal sentencing guidelines.

2. The person to be sentenced did not use violence or credible threats of violence or possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon (or induce someone else to do so) in connection with the crime.

3. The crime did not result in death or serious bodily injury to any person.

4. The person to be sentenced was not an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others in the crime, and was not engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise; and

5. Not later than the time of the sentencing hearing, the person to be sentenced has truthfully provided to the United States Attorney's Office all information and evidence the person has concerning the crime.

The second way of avoiding a mandatory minimum penalty is called substantial assistance. It refers to assisting the U.S. Attorney's Office in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed a crime. If the person to be sentenced has, in fact, rendered substantial assistance, some of the things the judge will look at are:

1. The significance and usefulness of the person's assistance, taking into consideration the prosecutor's evaluation of the assistance rendered.

2. The truthfulness, completeness, and reliability of any information or testimony provided by the person to be sentenced.

3. The nature and extent of the person's assistance.

4. Any injury suffered, or any danger or risk of injury to the person or his family resulting from his assistance; and

5. The timeliness of the person's assistance.

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