Which Federal Crimes Have Mandatory Minimums?

shadow of man in a jail cell

Federal crimes range from nonviolent white-collar offenses to online crimes to murder. Which of these offenses have mandatory minimum prison sentences? Let’s discuss.

What is a Mandatory Minimum Prison Sentence?

Mandatory minimums are relatively new and date back to the 1980s. A mandatory minimum sentence is the minimum amount of time someone must spend incarcerated after being convicted of a crime. Generally, the judge cannot sentence the individual below the mandatory minimum requirement. This means that even if the case circumstances support the defendant getting a lighter sentence, the judge does not have the discretion to make that decision. Unfortunately, this leads to many individuals spending lengthy periods of time behind bars, though they would likely be suited to remain in the community.

Which Crimes Require Mandatory Minimums?

Drug Crimes

You may be surprised to learn that drug crimes, even nonviolent offenses, account for most of the federal mandatory minimums.

You may face a mandatory minimum sentence if convicted of:

  • Selling drugs
  • Trafficking drugs
  • Cultivating or manufacturing drugs
  • Conspiring to commit a federal drug offense

Additionally, the type of drug involved in the offense will likely affect the potential sentence.

Weapons Crimes

The presence of a weapon during the commission of a crime can lead to a mandatory prison sentence. For example, committing a drug crime while in possession of a firearm could add a mandatory minimum of five years to the sentence.

Sex Crimes

It’s common for sex crimes to have a mandatory minimum prison sentence, especially if the offense involves a child. The mandatory minimum period of incarceration could be as much as life in prison.

White Collar Crimes

Many white-collar crimes are charged at the federal level and have mandatory minimum prison sentences.

Be mindful of this risk if you are charged with:

  • Aggravated identity theft
  • Wire fraud
  • Tax fraud
  • Public corruption
  • Embezzlement

How to Avoid a Mandatory Minimum Sentence

There are a couple of ways individuals can avoid a mandatory minimum sentence, even if convicted.

The first way is through a safety valve exemption. Individuals may qualify for this exemption as long as they meet all criteria.

Some of these criteria include:

  • The defendant has no or a relatively brief criminal history
  • The defendant committed a nonviolent offense
  • The defendant did not possess a weapon at the time of the offense
  • The offense did not involve anyone being harmed or killed
  • The defendant was not the leader of a larger criminal plot or enterprise
  • The defendant has been cooperative with the court and supplied all information needed

If individuals meet these standards, they may be allowed less time than the mandatory minimum sentence dictates. It’s also important to note that this exemption is only applicable to drug cases.

The other way to avoid a mandatory minimum sentence is through cooperation. This means that the defendant works closely with the government to prosecute others committing crimes. In other words, the defendant works to get information about other crimes to get a lighter sentence for themselves and help the government prosecute other criminals. This can be information regarding offenses unrelated to the defendant’s charge.

Facing Federal Charges and Need Defense?

If you have recently been contacted by federal law enforcement, have been arrested, or have reason to believe you are under investigation for a federal crime, you should contact a defense attorney right away. Working with an attorney is crucial to getting the best possible outcome for your case.

At Schweitzer & Davidian, our attorneys have handled numerous complex federal cases. We understand the unique circumstances and challenges of a federal charge, and we have the experience needed to handle such serious cases. Call us at (559) 206-2322 to speak with our Fresno criminal defense attorneys about your situation.