Date of this Version
Geiken, C. 2019. Mandatory Minimum Penalties: An Analysis of Four State’s Penal Codes and Federal Court Policies. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
In Nebraska, variations of bills attempting to amend mandatory minimum laws in the state have been introduced. The harshness of the mandatory sentences, as well as the looming state of emergency caused by prison overcrowding, have sustained the debate over sentencing laws. This essay identifies the core issues of mandatory minimum sentencing laws and analyzes the states of Nebraska, Texas, Alabama, California, and the federal system’s use of mandatory minimums for felony charges to identify potential solutions. Statute review found that Nebraska’s current sentencing codes are misaligned with the rest of the nation; not even Alabama with one of the harshest penal codes uses mandatory minimums for their habitual criminal statutes. Of the penal codes that included mandatory minimum language, additional language was included to protect from harsh practices. When drafting legislation, Nebraska law-makers should consider the following recommendations. Looking to Texas and California’ practice of high judicial discretion, Nebraska should rid the penal code of mandatory minimum language. To ensure violent offenders receive necessary programming before reentry, Nebraska could prohibit probation for certain crimes, similar to California. Nebraska could also adopt the federal system’s “safety valve” relief mechanism that allows for prosecutorial discretion while maintaining clear requirements. As for mandatory minimums attached to habitual criminal laws, similar legislation to California’s Proposition 36 should be reconsidered. Finally, Nebraska should avoid reactionary legislation to certain offenses; as seen by Alabama’s trafficking in fentanyl mandatory minimum, this type of legislation costs the state money and puts non-violent offenders in prison for longer.