Mandatory Sentencing and Its Effects on the Judicial System

Mandatory sentencing is a structured sentencing method used in courts today. This type of sentencing mandates a specific numerical amount of punishment with no leeway or discretion involved. Typically, habitual offenders will encounter this type of no sympathy punishment from the court systems. The opposite of mandatory sentencing is presumptive sentencing which allows for a small amount of judicial discretion within published guidelines.

Certain crimes falling under mandatory sentencing are not as severe as others. For example, armed robbery’s mandatory sentence is three years. However, the three-strike law can imprison a third time serious felon for life with out the possibility of parole. In California their third time offenders are required to serve a minimum of twenty five years in prison. This law varies a little with in all jurisdictions. Some require that there be three violent felonies committed. Others only count adult convictions.

One example of mandatory sentencing is the three-strike law. They are a category of statutes enacted by state governments in the United States, beginning in the 1990s, which require courts to hand down a mandatory and typically extended period of incarceration to persons who have been convicted of a serious criminal offense on three or more separate occasions. This law was enacted upon the idea that a third time felon did not posses the capacity for the intended rehabilitation of the prison systems. The sentence length was justified based on the need for greater public safety. It is also meant to show the public that states are taking a tougher stance against crime.

The idea of longer sentences for repeat offenders was not new, dating back to the late nineteenth century. The first true three strikes law to be enacted was in 1993 in Washington followed shortly after by the more notable California Law. The original law enacted in 1994 went on the “three strikes, you’re out” philosophy. This philosophy meant that following a third felony conviction the offender would be put in prison for life. Eventually this ultimatum was scaled back and drug offenders were offered the chance to rehab in prison.

The concept of the three strikes laws as well as mandatory sentencing swiftly spread too many other states. In 2004, twenty six states as well as the federal government had enacted laws meeting the criteria for a three strikes law. The general criteria for a three strikes law is life in prison for three time felons without the possibility for parole for a very long period of time, most commonly 25 years. California’s law is by far the broadest and far reaching.

Over the past 12 years however controversy and critics have risen out of the wood work. One of the main complaints about the law is just what crimes are considered for the three strikes. In California, petty theft is considered a felony if the offender has a prior conviction for any form of theft. This has lead to the life imprisonment of several people for minor thefts such as golf clubs, a slice of pizza, and video tapes. There have been many challenges to this law and there are bound to be many more in the future. Some want certain offenders put away for life while others want to allow for judicial discretion. All of these questions may have to be settled in the criminal justice or judiciary system.

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