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How mandatory minimum sentences impact accused offenders

For many New York residents, it is clear that some criminal offenses carry more serious penalties. While it is reasonable to assume that serious offenses could result in harsh penalties, some low-level offenses unfortunately carry with them long-term consequences that many have argued are unfair. Due to the large number of offenders serving long sentences for low-level offenses, in states such as New York, a movement to reform certain sentencing laws was initiated.

Mandatory sentences began as a means to deter offenders from committing certain crimes, but these mandatory minimum sentences had the tendency to flood the criminal justice system as well as the prison system with drug addicts and those with mental illnesses.

In order to correct this unintended result, reforms have taken place over the last several years. For example, drug laws were reformed in New York in 2005 and in 2009. Since this reform, the state has seen a 27 percent decrease in their prison population from 1999 to 2015. One major change was the state now enrolling the majority of its non-violent drug offenders in a six-month Shock Incarceration Program.

The reforms experienced in New York do not only prevent harsh penalties for low-level offenses but also offers a means to treat drug addictions and save taxpayers money. While mandatory minimum sentences could result in an alleged offender to face serious penalties, it could also result in the prison system being over flooded with low-level criminals.

Although sentencing reforms seek to reduce unfair treatment of convicted offenders, it is important that those facing criminal charges understand that they have criminal defense options at any stage of the process. Whether the accused seeks to defend him or herself against the charges or the unfair penalties they were sentenced to, it is important to understand the rights afforded to criminal defendants throughout the entire process.

Source: Syracuse, "New York's prison population at its lowest level since 1999: By the numbers," Charley Hannagan, Nov. 10, 2015

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