Mandatory minimum sentences have long been controversial, particularly in reference to drug crimes. A legacy of the “get tough on crime” directives of the 1980s-90s, mandatory minimums take the power to adjudicate a just and reasonable sentence completely out of the hands of the juries and judges who hear cases.
In the opinion of many who advocate for criminal reform, justice can’t really be served when judges are unable to do their jobs because of constraints in the law.
The Virginia State Crime Commission calls for mandatory minimums end
There are 224 offenses in Virginia law that come with mandatory minimum sentences. The Virginia State Crime Commission (VSCC) says that they all need to be abolished.
The commission is a bipartisan advisory body that gives advice to legislators after studying the effects of various aspects of the criminal justice system. In the words of one representative, “…mandatory minimums skew our system.”
The rigidity of mandatory sentencing laws has led to widespread overcrowding in prisons and long sentences for non-violent offenders. They also give prosecutors a lot of power. A prosecutor can dangle the threat of a lengthy mandatory minimum sentence upon conviction over a scared defendant’s head to basically push them into accepting a plea deal for some lesser charge — even if they’re innocent.
If you’re charged with a serious criminal offense, get legal help at once
The state will take up the debate over mandatory minimum sentences very soon — but that doesn’t mean that anything will change overnight. Anybody facing serious criminal charges needs to be prepared to defend themselves. Speak with an experienced defense attorney before you speak to the police.