Mandatory Minimum Cop-Out

Post Date: February 14, 2013

(Huffington Post commentary by Julie Stewart) — On Monday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced their support for legislation to impose mandatory minimum prison sentences for gun crimes. The move comes just months after Chicago closed the book on its deadliest year in decades; in 2012, there were 506 homicides committed in the Windy City, a disappointment after three years of decline. While the instinct to lock up dangerous, gun-toting criminals is a good one, the proposal unveiled Monday is a cop-out.

To begin with, even the name “mandatory minimum” is false advertising. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws are neither mandatory nor do they impose minimum sentences. Under a truly mandatory sentencing law, everyone arrested for the same offense would end up receiving the same sentence if convicted. But that’s not how mandatory sentencing laws work. They simply transfer the discretion that a judge would have to impose an individualized sentence (based on relevant factors, such as a defendant’s role in the crime, criminal history, and likelihood of reoffending) and give that discretion to prosecutors.  Read more