Mandatory minimum sentences have been a controversial subject for years. If you are convicted of certain crimes, the courts have little choice when it comes to imposing sentences for those offenses. This can mean a person with a conviction for a non-violent crime, such as a drug crime, may face decades in prison, separated from family and friends. For many families, this can be a hardship they have no means to overcome.
Some of those families have worked hard to bring reform to federal sentencing guidelines. Fighting for fair penalties for those facing federal drug charges, groups like Families Against Mandatory Minimums have succeeded in bringing the need for sentence reform to the eyes of lawmakers in the federal government. One of those reforms is the exception to the mandatory minimum called “the safety valve.”
How do I qualify?
Mandatory minimums require a judge or jury to impose a sentence that is at or above what the law designates for certain crimes. For example, depending on the amount investigators say you had in your possession, the minimum penalty for trafficking heroin in most situations is 10 years. A judge may impose a higher sentence, but he or she may not go lower. However, the safety valve allows the government to recommend a lower sentence if the following factors exist:
- The offense of which authorities charged you did not involve a weapon or any acts or threats of violence on your part.
- No one died or suffered serious injury during the commission of the offense.
- You played a minor role in the alleged crime, which means you did not supervise or lead others in carrying out the crime.
- You share with the government all the evidence and information you have about the crime or about any related offenses that may have been part of the scheme.
- You have one or fewer criminal history points against you.
Criminal history points are like the points you obtain on your driver’s license for moving violations. Convictions for certain crimes add points to your criminal history, so the cleaner your past, the more likely you will be eligible for a safety valve exception to mandatory sentencing if the court convicts you of federal drug crimes.
Because eligibility requires you to share information about the crime with authorities, you would be wise to discuss your options with a Georgia attorney who is familiar with criminal justice in the federal courts. You may be placing yourself at risk by answering questions without the advice and guidance of a skilled attorney.