Mandatory minimums in Illinois

Mandatory minimums are sentences that a judge must impose during a criminal proceeding. The length of a sentence depends on the severity of the crime according to Illinois law. 

This practice is controversial among lawmakers; some feel that mandatory minimums are necessary for a safer society, while others think that they result in overly harsh penalties. 

Crimes that qualify for mandatory minimums 

An arrestee for any of the following crimes faces the possibility of a mandatory minimum: 

  • Drug trafficking  
  • Murder  
  • Armed robbery  
  • Unlawful use of a weapon  
  • Theft  

Penalties can range from one year to 20 years. Every case is different; what happens after an arrest is crucial in determining an outcome. 

Plea bargaining 

Often, the defendant and the prosecutor must engage in plea bargaining after a charge. Plea bargaining is a negotiation that makes it possible to receive a lighter charge in exchange for pleading “guilty” instead of “not guilty.” Some argue that if a crime has a long mandatory minimum, then prosecutors have too much power. The prosecutor may have more discretion than a judge in these instances because he or she decides what crime to charge the defendant; a less serious charge results in shorter incarcerations. 

Mandatory minimums also block a judge from considering mitigating factors such as the reason a defendant committed a crime. For example, a person arrested for driving under the influence may have trace amounts of a substance in his or her system. If a defendant consumed the substance a few days prior to an arrest, then it opens the door that an incident happened because of physical exhaustion, a headache or a natural lapse of attention. 

The debate about mandatory minimums continues as the public becomes more aware. Lawmakers are proposing new legislation in Illinois in an attempt to make the legal system fairer. There are others who still believe, however, that they are a uniform way to uphold the law.