Many experienced in the Federal criminal justice system, including some judges, are noting various problems stemming from the mandatory sentencing structures utlized. Prosecutors have significant discretion in the criminal cases as they determine what charges to seek, what plea offers to present / agree to, etc. Some Federal Judges are apparently of the opinion they are a mere formality in the criminal justice system, as they are now left with so little discretion in their rulings. Some would argue the limited discretion results in consistent rulings from the bench. Others point out that the current approach results in some absurd results. I recognize the arguments on both sides. As a Charlotte criminal defense attorney, I also believe there are some parallels to this situation in the State criminal justice system.
This issue is most recognized with relatively minor criminals when the prosecutor seeks the minimum sentence under the guidelines. The mandatory minimum sentences are often imposed in cases involving minor drug offenders. Misguided legislators attempted to combat drug-related issues in the mid-80s by imposing a law that required ten year sentences for drug kingpins and five year sentences for midlevel dealers. Although this appears to be soundly structured, in reality, Prosecutors are left with significant discretion in determining which category the Defendant resides. Given this significant latitude in defining the Defendant's category, a seemingly minor offender can be considered a king pin. I won't even bring up the issue here again of Prosecutor misconduct, which has repeatedly reared its ugly head in North Carolina all too often in recent years. According to the United State Sentencing Commission, 74 percent of Defendants who faced a crack cocaine related offense in the past year were sentenced to the mandatory minimum, but only 5 percent managed a drug business.