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Federal Firearms Policy and Mandatory Sentencing

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Volume: 73 Issue: 3 Dated: (Fall 1982) Pages: 1051-1060
Date Published
10 pages
Detroit's law requiring a mandatory sentence for the use of a firearm in committing a felony did not reduce such crimes nor produce more punitive sentences for offenders, suggesting that a similar proposal by the Federal Task Force on Violent Crime will not be effective.
An examination of changes in crime rates following the implementation of Detroit's mandatory 2-year prison sentence for the commission of a felony using a firearm shows that although the crime rate dropped, there is no indication that it was related to the law. This was likely due to the reluctance of an offender not to carry a gun in the commission of a crime where he was likely to meet armed resistance. The fear of being defenseless plus the sentence attached to the felony itself if subdued while committing the crime and subsequently convicted probably made the use of a gun still more advantageous to the offender. Further, although restrictions were placed on plea bargaining when dealing with charges of using a gun in the commission of a felony, in the serious cases where defendants had previously received substantial periods of incarceration, judges were increasingly drawn into sentence negotiations with defense attorneys. The result of these negotiations was often a decrease in the sentence on the primary felony to offset the additional sentence required by the gun law count. In the case of first offenders where the mandatory sentence seemed unduly harsh, bench or waiver trials were often held. If judges found defendants guilty of a misdemeanor in a bench trial, the mandatory provision fell by the wayside. Detroit's experience with the felony gun use law suggests that a similar proposal by the Federal Task Force on Violent Crime will not be effective. Acting on the belief that such a proposal will decrease violent crime precludes the development of more effective alternatives of gun control. Thirteen footnotes are provided.

Date Published: January 1, 1982