How Can You Avoid a Minimum Mandatory Sentence in Federal Court?

A minimum mandatory sentence is a minimum prison sentence that a judge must impose for a particular crime, without consideration of mitigating circumstances.

In federal court, there are only two ways to avoid such a sentence:

  1. Safety valve; and
  2. Cooperation.

In order to qualify for safety valve, the sentencing judge must find that the accused individual meets 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

(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.

The second way of avoiding a minimum mandatory sentence is by cooperation.

Federal law states that “[u]pon 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.