Mandatory vs. statutory minimum sentences
by Jamison Koehler on December 4, 2020
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a “sentence” is the “judgment that a court formally pronounces after finding a criminal defendant guilty.” It is “the punishment imposed on a criminal wrongdoer.”
A “minimum sentence” is defined as the “least amount of time that a defendant must serve in prison before becoming eligible for parole.”
In D.C., there is then the distinction between a mandatory minimum sentence and a statutory minimum sentence.
Both types of sentences involve a term of imprisonment that must be imposed. The court has no discretion to sentence the defendant to a lesser sentence.
The difference is that, in the case of a statutory minimum sentence, the court can suspend all or a portion of the required sentence. In other words, the defendant does not need to actually serve that time in jail. Instead, the time is left “hanging over the defendant’s head”; that is, the court can impose up to that amount of jail time were the court to find after a hearing that defendant to violates conditions of his or her release.
By contrast, the court has no discretion to suspend any of the jail time associated with a mandatory minimum sentence.
Criminal offenses that provide for mandatory minimum sentences include first-degree murder (30 years); armed carjacking (15 years); carjacking (7 years); crimes of violence and dangerous crimes while armed with a firearm (5 years for first conviction and 10 years for subsequent convictions); possession of a firearm during a crime of violence/dangerous crime (5 years); felon in possession of a firearm (1 year); theft I or theft II if two or more theft convictions (1 year); possession of armor piercing ammunition.