Mandatory sentencing is a court decision setting which serves to limit judicial discretion through law. Individuals who run afoul of mandatory sentencing laws find themselves facing a minimum number of years in prison. The mandatory sentencing laws vary widely from country to country.
Mandatory sentencing guidelines are primarily found in Common Law jurisdictions, since under Civil Law systems explicit laws prescribe minimum and maximum sentences for every type of crime which the prosecute.
In the United States of America, federal juries cannot be informed about mandatory minimum sentencing in federal cases, since the role of the jury in a federal court is limited to establishing and identifying the guilt or innocence of the defendant. However, these mandatory sentencing instructions are sometimes brought into testimony through the cross examination of an informant who had been facing similar charges prior to agreeing to testify against the defendant.
Mandatory sentencing laws were introduced in the United States after the United States Congress passed the Boggs Act in 1952 and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956. The first mandatory sentencing laws, and some of the strongest mandatory sentencing laws still on the books, are mandatory sentencing laws affecting the sentences associated with drug possession.
The most controversial mandatory sentencing laws that are in effect in the United States of America are the three strikes laws that have been passed in the state of California. These mandatory sentencing laws in California are so controversial because they completely remove the opportunity for discretion from the hands of a judge.