Why do we need the Eliminate Mandatory Minimums Act?
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws are a significant driver of mass incarceration and grant alarming power to prosecutors to coerce plea deals.
Because of mandatory minimum sentences, prosecutors can charge or threaten to charge a person in such a way that they would be guaranteed a harsh prison sentence. By “up-charging,” or charging someone with a more serious crime than the case warrants or that they could prove in court, prosecutors purposely intimidate an accused person into pleading guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence. This creates a system where New Yorkers forfeit their constitutional rights to trial and are convicted without a chance to mount a meaningful defense. As a result, 96% of felony convictions and 99% of misdemeanor convictions in New York State are the results of guilty pleas, not a trial.
New York’s mandatory minimums also strip discretion from judges by requiring them to hand down prison sentences based on the charges imposed by prosecutors rather than their evaluations of individual cases. New York’s mandatory minimums and two- and three-strike laws were passed as part of the Rockefeller Drug Laws in the 1970s. It’s time to undo this harm and eliminate mandatory minimums.