Recently, conservative columnist George Will wrote about how mandatory minimum sentences contribute to prison population increases and encourage those accused of crimes to forego their constitutional right to a jury trial. You can read his article by clicking here.
Rest assured that this problem exists at the state level as well. Criminal defendants, especially in drug cases, often have to make difficult decisions between having their day in court in front of a jury or accepting a plea offer to avoid stiff mandatory minimum sentences. In many Pennsylvania counties such decisions must be made prior to the defendant being provided with all of the evidence against him or her, thus making the decision even more difficult.
Most troubling is the quote from a federal judge stating that the excessive penalties often will induce innocent people to plead guilty just to avoid the harsh penalties. Prosecutors, who in many cases have the discretion to seek such sentences, need to take care to avoid such injustice. Defense attorneys must advise their clients of the risks and try to convince prosecutors to use their discretion wisely on a case-by-case basis.