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“The more laws, the less justice.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero
Mandatory sentencing was created with pure and good intention to eradicate crime and provide equality. However, a good intention does not necessarily result in good policies. The effectiveness of a policy is determined by its results. The proliferation of the mandatory minimum sentences in the recent decade, along with a prodigious increase in the prison population, has forced those concerned with criminal justice to question the effectiveness of the mandatory sentencing.
Law Professor Michael Tonry from the University of Minnesota argued through evidence that the enactment of the mandatory minimum penalties has provided no demonstrable effect on the reduction of crime (Tonry, 1992). For example, after the enactment of the armed career criminal act in 1984, the proliferation of mandatory sentencing surged rapidly and increased in severity. In addition to that, the number of mandatory minimums has doubled, along with the introduction of entirely new kinds of criminal activities. During this time period, the percentage of the offenders increased from 34.4% to 40.7% (Bernick & Paul J. Larkin, 2014).
In addition to the failed deterrence of crime rate, the system of mandatory minimum penalties has the ultimate disadvantage of not being cost-efficient. The increased population in prisons ultimately put an unnecessary burden on the government and waste the scarce resources available in the criminal justice. Taking into account the structure of the mandatory sentencing, it is safe to state that this system eliminates the purpose of a judicial system. It is the responsibility of a judge to understand all the facts and figures of a case and propose an adequate sentence for the criminal according to the severity of the crime committed. The facts, circumstances, conditions, and demands of every criminal case are different. Mainly, the mandatory sentencing shifts the power from the judges and the jury to the legislators. In the struggle for equality, the mandatory minimum penalty can often prove to be unjust. For example, a person who killed someone accidentally in a car accident and the person who killed their family with an ax does not deserve the same amount of jail time sentence. Lastly, the system of mandatory minimum penalty deprives a judge of his right and duty to provide justice to each member of the society, including the criminal itself.
It is the foremost duty of the judicial members to interpret the law, assess the evidence from the case and process a determination accordingly. Judiciary’s independence is one of the key principle of the law (Vasoli, 1965). Judicial discretion places justice for the victim and rehabilitation of the offender on the same scale. This practice also allows the deterrence of crime from the general public. The system of mandatory sentencing focuses solely on the punishment of the crime. However, the criminal justice system was established to bring peace and fairness to the victim and the offender, along with the entire community. For this reason, it is pivotal for the judge to utilize the knowledge of the law, experience, and moral judgment to tailor sentences according to individual circumstances and facts of every case of criminal offense. As argued by McKenzie, the process of sentencing cannot be mechanized since it is a form of art (Kapardis, 2014).
Mandatory minimum penalties struggle for equality, whereas the criminal justice system aims for justice. Placing a mandatory minimum penalty for a crime not only robs the offender the right to rehabilitation but also eliminates the idea of justice for the victim and the community. Therefore, the ultimate decision for the adequate sentence of the offender should be established by the judicial members of the court.
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