Mandatory Sentencing


sentence, in criminal law, punishment that a court orders, imposed on a person convicted of criminal activity. Sentences typically consist of fines, corporal punishment, imprisonment for varying periods including life, or capital punishment, and sometimes combine two or more elements. In the United States, the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution bans "cruel and unusual punishments" (effectively excluding corporal punishment), and exile and forfeiture of property by heirs are not imposed. Especially in punishing misdemeanors, payment of a fine may be the alternative to a prison sentence.

The sentence to be imposed is generally fixed by statute. In some cases (mandatory sentencing) the duration is exactly prescribed; in others the judge (and in some instances, the jury) has limited discretion. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that courts in sentencing may, and sometimes must, consider not only the crimes for which a defendant was convicted, but also other charges, even if they led to acquittal. The Court has also ruled that only a jury may make the factual findings that can increase a sentence beyond the usual range specified in law for a crime. If a person is convicted of more than one crime at a single trial, the sentences may run concurrently (i.e., all beginning at the same time) or consecutively. In indeterminate sentencing, a minimum and maximum term is set, and good behavior may allow a convict to be released on parole any time after the minimum term has been served. In many states successive convictions on felony charges bring longer sentences, and in the 1980s some U.S. states and the federal government began to impose "three strikes" and similar laws, ordering mandatory long-term or life imprisonment for repeated felony offenses. Such laws have been criticized for sometimes requiring long sentences for nonviolent offenders whose crimes may include petty theft or drug possession. Persons found incapable of understanding the nature of their crimes or of helping in their defense are often committed to mental institutions for periods that are to end if they recover sanity; these are effectively, if not technically, sentences. See also verdict, jury, and pardon.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Mandatory Sentencing: Selected full-text books and articles

Sentencing: A Reference Handbook By Dean John Champion ABC-Clio, 2008
Librarian's tip: "Mandatory Sentencing" begins on p. 13
The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America By Todd R. Clear; Natasha A. Frost New York University Press, 2014
Librarian's tip: "Agenda One: Repeal Mandatory Sentences, Especially for Drugs" begins on p. 163
Citizenship Status, Race, Ethnicity, and Their Effects on Sentencing By Jawjeong Wu LFB Scholarly, 2011
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "Federal Sentencing Guidelines"
Mandatory Sentencing and Racial Disparity: Assessing the Role of Prosecutors and the Effects of Booker By Starr, Sonja B.; Rehavi, M. Marit The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 123, No. 1, October 2013
The Impact of Mandatory Minimum Penalties in Federal Sentencing By Mauer, Marc Judicature, Vol. 94, No. 1, July/August 2010
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Correcting Mandatory Injustice: Judicial Recommendation of Executive Clemency By Huang, Joanna M Duke Law Journal, Vol. 60, No. 1, October 2010
Punishment and Democracy: Three Strikes and You're out in California By Franklin E. Zimring; Gordon Hawkins; Sam Kamin Oxford University Press, 2003
Penal Populism and Public Opinion: Lessons from Five Countries By Julian V. Roberts; Loretta J. Stalans; David Indermaur; Mike Hough Oxford University Press, 2003
Librarian's tip: "Mandatory Sentencing" begins on p. 54
Machinegunning Reason: Sentencing Factors and Mandatory Minimums in United States V. O'Brien By Scharf, William O Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 34, No. 3, Summer 2011
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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