Mandatory minimums limit judicial discretion in many jurisdictions in the United States, often compelling judges to impose harsh incarcerative terms. Using qualitative interviews with 41 criminal term judges presiding in a state in the United States, we explore how mandatory minimums influence the judicial sentencing function. We find that judges vary in their approaches to sentencing and that their approaches correspond with their perceptions of mandatory minimum statutes. While our respondents consider case-level, systemic, and pragmatic factors, the majority of judges are focused on the case level and perceive that mandatory minimums often strip away the flexibility they need to craft appropriate sentences in individual cases, leading to punishments that are unduly harsh, and sometimes preventing the imposition of promising alternatives to incarceration. Some judges experience moral dilemmas and guilt feelings during this process. In contrast, judges who highlight pragmatic factors (e.g., public perceptions) are more receptive to statutory restrictions.
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