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Avoiding Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Clients facing criminal charges in federal court are often confronted with the threat of serving a mandatory minimum sentence upon conviction. Mandatory Minimum sentences are commonly charged in the following types of cases:

Drug trafficking - Mandatory minimum sentences can be triggered by drug quantities or a person's prior criminal history. These mandatory minimum sentences can range from five years to life in prison.

Firearms offenses - Mandatory minimum sentences can be triggered in cases where a person has prior criminal convictions and is accused of possession of a gun. Other mandatory minimums are triggered by accusations that a person used a firearm during the commission of another offense. These mandatory minimum sentences can also range from five years to life in prison.

"Three Strike" cases - A person charged in federal court with serious violent felony will face a mandatory life sentence if they are found to have two or more prior qualifying convictions.

Sexual or Child Pornography Offenses - Clients facing these types of charges not only face mandatory minimum sentences ranging from five years to life imprisonment; they also face the potential to be civilly committed to Bureau of Prison's medical facility as a "Sexually Dangerous Offender" for the rest of their life.

Many other types of offenses, for example; immigration offenses, identity theft or fraud offenses, even some wildlife and environmental offenses can carry potential mandatory minimum sentences.

Attacking the application of a potential mandatory minimum sentence must be undertaken early in the representation of the client.

The attorneys at Kohlmetz, Steen & Hanrahan, P.C. have the knowledge and experience necessary to defend persons facing charges involving mandatory minimum sentences. Some ways in which we seek to avoid the application of such sentences are:

  1. Aggressively defend the case and win at trial
  2. Aggressively and creatively challenge the government's evidence in the case in an effort to win a reduced charge.
  3. Aggressively and creatively challenge the client's prior criminal history in an effort to prevent application of the mandatory minimum sentence.

In some cases, application of the mandatory minimum sentence cannot be avoided other than by approaching the prosecution and negotiating out from under the mandatory minimum. Generally this approach takes two forms:

  1. The "Safety valve" law for first time drug offenders ; and
  2. Cooperation with the United States Attorney's Office.

In order to qualify for "safety valve" relief from the application of an otherwise mandatory minimum in a drug trafficking case, an accused individual must meet the following 5 criteria:

(1) the defendant does not have more than 1 criminal history point, as determined under the federal sentencing guidelines;

(2) the defendant did not use violence or credible threats of violence or possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon (or induce another participant to do so) in connection with the
offense;

(3) the offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury to any person;

(4) the defendant was not an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor of others in the offense, as determined under the sentencing guidelines and was not engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise; and

(5) not later than the time of the sentencing hearing, the defendant has truthfully provided to the U.S. Attorney's Office all information and evidence the defendant has concerning the offense or offenses that were part of the same course of conduct or of a common scheme or plan, but the fact that the defendant has no relevant or useful other information to provide or that the U.S. Attorney's Office is already aware of the information shall not preclude a determination by the court that the defendant has complied with
this requirement.

Cooperating with the United States Attorney's Office is the final option to consider when seeking to avoid a mandatory minimum sentence. It is not a decision that should be made lightly or without serious consideration by the client and the attorney.

Federal law states that "upon motion of the U.S. Attorney's Office, the court shall have the authority to impose a sentence below a level established by statute as a minimum sentence so as to reflect a defendant's substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense."

It is important to note that while the safety valve provision applies only to drug cases, the cooperation provision applies to any federal crime.

When the state or federal prosecutor is charging you with an offense that carries a mandatory minimum sentence, it's important to immediately contact an experienced Oregon criminal defense lawyer.

At Kohlmetz, Steen & Hanrahan, P.C., We have developed strategies and tactics over the years in which we have been successful in avoiding the application of certain mandatory minimum sentences. We have convinced both federal and state prosecutors to take mandatory minimums off the table. And we have also convinced both federal and state judges not to impose the mandatory minimum because of a variety of reasons such as:

  • Constitutionality of the mandatory minimum law, both in general and as applied to the particular case at hand,
  • Lack of legislative intent to apply the minimum sentence to a particular type of case or individual
  • Failure of the government to provide timely notice of the application of mandatory minimums
  • Unconstitutional or defective prior convictions
  • More appropriate lesser charges apply to the client's conduct,
  • The client qualifies for an exception to the mandatory minimum sentence.

If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime that carries a potential mandatory minimum sentence you need the experienced attorneys of Kohlmetz, Steen & Hanrahan, P.C. on your side.

Federal Criminal Defense

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Kohlmetz, Steen & Hanrahan, P.C. | 741 Southwest Lincoln Street Portland, OR 97201| Tel: 503-821-7449/888-311-2016 | Fax: 503-224-9417
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