Federal Narcotic Mandatory Minimum Sentences -- Analysis

Drug Offense Statutory Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Statutory mandatory minimums trump the advisory federal sentencing guidelines. Thus, even if the sentencing guidelines are lower than the statutory mandatory minimum sentence, the statutory mandatory minimum always applies. U.S.S.G. Section 5G1.1(b); United States v. Clark, 274 F.3d 1325 (11th Cir. 2001). Statutory mandatory minimums trump the provisions in Section 3553(a) and are binding notwithstanding the Booker decision. United States v. Castaing-Sosa, 530 F.3d 1358 (11th Cir. 2008).

No defendant can be subjected to increased punishment by reason of one or more prior convictions unless before trial, or before the entry of a plea of guilty, the United States attorney files an information with the court, and the defendant and/or the defendant's attorney, stating in writing the previous convictions to be relied upon. All challenges to a prior conviction(s) must be made prior to sentence being imposed or said challenges are deemed waived and cannot thereafter be raised to attack the sentence. No person who stands convicted of an offense under this part may challenge the validity of any prior conviction alleged under this section that occurred more than five years before the date of the information alleging such prior conviction.

A substantial assistance motion by the government pursuant to U.S.S.G. Section 5K1.1 to grant a downward departure under the guidelines does not authorize the court to sentence the defendant below the statutory mandatory minimum sentence, unless the government moves the court to grant this reduction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(e). Melendez v. United States, 518 U.S. 120 (1996). Absent a motion by the government pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(e), the court may not reduce a sentence below a statutory mandatory minimum, even in light of the defendant's age or health. United States v. Hall, 943 F.2d 39 (11th Cir. 1991). However, a government motion to reduce a defendant's sentence pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35(b) does authorize the court to sentence the defendant below the statutory mandatory minimum sentence. United States v. Chavarria-Herrara, 15 F.3d 1033 (11th Cir. 1994).

Where there is 5K1.1 substantial assistance in a case in which there is a mandatory minimum sentence, the starting point for the departure is the mandatory minimum sentence, not the guideline sentence. Thus, if there is a 10-year mandatory minimum but the guideline calculation is 57 to 71 months, the beginning point of the Section 5K1.1 departure is 120 months or 10 years. United States v. Head, 178 F.3d 1205 (11th Cir. 1999).

To sustain a conviction for controlled substance offense, the government is not required to prove that the defendant had knowledge of the particular drug involved as long as he knew he was dealing with a controlled substance. United States v. Gomez, 905 F.2d 1513 (11th Cir. 1990).

The court has rejected the "sentencing entrapment" theory where the government or law enforcement convinced a defendant to buy or sell a quantity of a controlled substance necessary to trigger a mandatory minimum sentence. United States v. Edenfield, 995 F.2d 197 (11th Cir. 1993).

Mandatory minimum sentences violate neither the Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment nor the Due Process Clause. United States v. Jones, 933 F.2d 1541 (11th Cir. 1991).

Relief from a drug mandatory minimum sentence is available in certain cases under the "Safety Valve."