By this article we will explore two examples of minimal sentencing imposed in US courts. These are cases whereby the judges discretion is limited by law. In civil law countries, law clearly stipulate maximal sentences possible for each crime as well as mitigating factors that need to be taken into account to reduce the sentence. This is a sharp contrast to US minimal sentencing laws.
1)Federal Law enacted in 1986 called for minimal sentences on drug offenders – a federal crime. Amongst others this included three cumulative factors: type of drug, weight of drug and prior convictions. The problem with this law is that it forgets very important factors which should be taken into account on a case per case basis mitigating factors such as the persons role in the crime (brain – master mind of the operation or just the human instrument – such as mules) nor the chances of recidivism (the likelihood that a person repeats the crime). The prisoners dilemma (often taught in economics will be discussed in a subsequent paper) comes into play in this scenario as a perversion of this law. Offenders who are willing to “snitch” on fellow offenders have their sentences reduced – unfortunately the brain of the operation often has important information and will thus get a reduced sentence, whilst the mules, often due to poverty are driven into selling drugs have very little information of use to federal authorities, have limited reduction of sentences. This hard line on drugs is not effective as has not deterred crime, instead it has led to prison overcrowding and racial disparities (already endemic in American society).
2)Californian three strikes law and mandatory minimal sentences enacted in 1994. Similar laws have been enacted in other US states. This law as has already been noted in “CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Perversity of the American Justice System” – calls for a minimal sentence of 25 years for a third serious felony. Proponents of these draconian laws believe that this deters crime! Unfortunately nothing is further from the truth – when states that practice three strikes laws are compared with other US states’ crime trends over a significant period such as 50 to 100 years, no significant difference in crime trend is perceptible. There is no observable difference in crime trends with western Europe where such sentencing is not applicable (with the notable exception of the UK). Evidence suggests that crime is deterred when offenders feel that the likelihood of being caught is higher rather than that when caught the sentences are longer. There is therefore a relationship between risk of getting caught and reduction of crime.
3)American Law is also different in another non-negligible way to most European countries. For concurrent crimes committed by the same offender, in US law, the sentences are added (simple arithmetic), i.e: an offender is caught selling drugs and has an illegal hand gun, each offense is judged and a sentence laid out. If the sentence for drug possession is 10 years and that for an illegal weapon is 5 years then the offender is jailed for a total of 15 years. In some European countries the sentences could be served concurrently. Simple arithmetic is almost never practiced.
Once again the perversion of the US criminal justice system is clearly demonstrated by these three examples. These are laws clearly based on emotional considerations of the moment and for impacting public opinion. These laws have no influence on crime trends.