Mandatory Minimums in Sex Cases
What is a mandatory minimum in a criminal sexual conduct or child pornography case?
Facing an allegation of sexual assault, child molestation, or child pornography for most people is the most terrifying experience of their life. That experience can be even more scary when they are charged with a crime that carries a penalty with a mandatory minimum.
What does it mean if the charge has a mandatory minimum?
A mandatory minimum is when congress or a state legislature has determined a minimum period of incarceration for a crime that a judge must impose at sentencing if a person is convicted of that crime. Unlike with other types of crimes, the judge has no discretion to sentence below the period of incarceration prescribed in the statute.
For example, in Michigan, a criminal sexual conduct in the first degree carries a mandatory minimum of twenty-five years when the victim is under the age of thirteen. This means that if a defendant pleads guilty to a criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, or is convicted by a jury of that crime, and the victim was under the age of thirteen at the time the crime occurred, the judge cannot give the defendant a sentence of less than twenty-five years.
Similarly, in federal child pornography cases, many of the commonly charged crimes also carry mandatory minimum sentences. For example, the crime of Sexual Exploitation of a Child carries a mandatory minimum of fifteen years. A conviction in federal court on this crime, whether by plea or after a jury trial, will result in the judge being required to give a prison sentence of at least fifteen years.
Can I be given more time than the mandatory minimum if convicted?
Yes. If convicted of a crime that carries a mandatory minimum, the judge does have discretion to give the defendant a longer prison sentence than than the time required by the mandatory minimum. Often, particularly in federal cases, sentencing guidelines (the amount of time recommended by a formula created by congress) will exceed the amount of time required by the mandatory minimum. This is less common is state court cases. Often, the state court sentencing guidelines will actually recommend a sentence that is lower than the mandatory minimum. However, the judge will not have discretion to sentence lower than the mandatory minimum. Further, the sentencing guidelines do not have to be followed by the judge, so the judge can still decide to sentence the defendant above the mandatory minimum if they believe that is appropriate.
How do I decide whether or not to take a plea bargain?
Mandatory minimums certainly cause the balance of power in plea bargaining situations to weigh even further in favor of the prosecutor than in cases that do not carry mandatory minimums. These serious penalties create a great deal of risk that will be hanging over your head in the event of a trial. Even in cases where the facts weigh heavily in favor of the defendant (which is rare), trials can always be lost.
When a defendant gets a plea offer for some period of incarceration below the mandatory minimum, the fact of the mandatory minimum creates a great deal of pressure on the defendant. If you turn down a plea offer for less than the mandatory minimum, and go to trial and lose, you know you are facing a lengthy sentence, even in the best case scenario. There will be nothing that you, your lawyer, or even the judge can do about that.
While defendants have to weigh this risk carefully, someone shouldn’t simply fold and take a plea because they are facing a mandatory minimum sentence. You have to think about other factors, such as innocence, age, family, and other important life circumstances. Ultimately, if you are presented with a proposed plea bargain, the choice about whether or not to take it is yours. Your attorney can give you guidance about the consequences of a plea or trial, but you get to decide how much risk you are willing to tolerate.
What should I do if I am charged with a crime that carries a mandatory minimum?
It is important that if you are facing a crime with these serious penalties, that you have a lawyer representing you who is both experienced in defending these types of crimes, and who is willing to spend the time to get to know you, understand your story, and is capable of conveying your story to a jury. The lawyers at Blanchard Law have extensive experience in defending people who have been charged with sex crimes, as well as extensive trial experience. If you have been charged with a sex crime, contact Blanchard Law today.