Pennsylvania no longer has any mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, but other states still do follow this method of punishment for certain crimes. The American Civil Liberties Union explains a mandatory minimum sentence is one in which legislators determine the sentencing for a crime.
The judge has no ability to alter this guideline. While he or she can give you a sentence that is more strict, the judge must at least sentence you to the mandatory minimum given by the law. The reason Pennsylvania no longer has this type of sentencing is that the state Supreme Court ruled it violates the state constitution. Despite this, legislators have been continuously working to try to reinstate the concept, which is why it is essential to understand what it means and how it works.
How it works
If a court finds you guilty of a criminal charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence, it means you will face at least that punishment. For example, these types of sentences usually carry a specific jail or prison term. If the sentencing guidelines require one year in prison, then you will serve that time. The judge cannot suspend it or otherwise set it aside.
One of the biggest problems with this type of sentencing is that it takes away judicial discretion. There is a reason why the legal system involves evidence and testimony. Every case is different. If all criminal situations were the same, then every person who committed a specific crime would get the exact same punishments. But it does not happen that way because of judicial discretion.
Judges consider all factors in a case. They may look at your background and the specifics of the situation. They can consider outside influences and other details that may have contributed to you finding yourself in this situation. Those factors can greatly impact how a judge sentences you.
The bottom line is mandatory minimum sentencing takes away the personal approach to sentencing and can impose penalties on people unfairly.