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Opinion: Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

The U.S. Sentencing Commission itself has noted that “the value of mandatory minimum sentence lies not in its imposition, but in its value as a bargaining chip to be given away in return for the resource-saving plea from the defendant to a more leniently sanctioned charge.” (Alexander, 2010, 111) Using guilty plea deals to extract people from communities on charges that could be falsely accused can leave possibly innocent people in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. The pretense for a plea deal is to extract information from the individual to alert local authorities of the potential crimes or criminal organizations within their communities. However, there can be 2 to 5 percent of individuals that are inclined to take a plea deal and get hit with a mandatory minimum sentence as an informant or paid witness to an alleged crime. (Alexander, 2010, 111) Resulting tens of thousands of innocent individuals to be locked in the U.S. prison system.

Florida v. Bostick

Terrance Bostick, a 28 year old African-American male. Had been sleeping in the back of a greyhound bus traveling from Miami, FL to Atlanta, GA. The bus stopped at a station in Fort Lauderdale, Florida when he was awakened by two police officers with bright green raid jackets that were “working the bus”. The officers were looking for individuals that were carrying drugs and the officers asked Bostick if they could search his bag. The officers found a pound of cocaine. The officers had no basis for suspecting Bostick of any criminal activity. Bostick was arrested, charged and convicted of trafficking cocaine. (Alexander, 2010, 81)

On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in Bostick’s case that the police officer’s conduct violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. The Florida Supreme Court overturned Bostick’s conviction, ruling that the cocaine, having been obtained illegally, was inadmissible. It also broadly condemned “bus sweeps” in the drug war, comparing them to methods employed by totalitarian regimes. (Alexander, 2010, 82)

The US Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the Florida Supreme Court. Stating that Bostick’s encounter with the police was purely voluntary, therefore was not seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The US Supreme Court stated that this incident should not govern all future drug sweeps, no matter the circumstances of the targeted individual. Through the notion that reasonable people who are inclined to cooperate with the police, most of them do not have the ability to decline the polices’ request.

Lockyer v. Andrade (Decided 2003)

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Leandro Andrade was found guilty of two felony counts of petty theft with a period conviction after he stole approximately $150 worth of videotapes.

Under California's three strikes regime, the judge sentenced him to two consecutive terms of 25 years to life.

The California Court of Appeal rejected his claim that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment.

Supreme Court of California denied discretionary review

Andrade filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal District Court

District Court denied his petition

Reversing, the Court of Appeals granted Andrade a certificate of appealability as to his claim that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment.

Question: Did the Federal Court of Appeals err in holding that California Court of Appeal’s affirmation of a sentence of two consecutive terms of 25 years to life in prison for a “third strike” conviction was “grossly disproportionate” to the crime and thus violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment”? (Lockyer V. Andrade, n.d.)

Conclusion: Yes. 5-4 opinion delivered by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the US Supreme Court held that the US Court of Appeals erred in ruling that the California Court of Appeal’s decision was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, the Court’s clearly established law within the meaning of 28 USC section 2254 (d) (1). Justice O'Connor wrote “the gross disproportionality principle reserves a constitutional violation for only the extraordinary case.” (Lockyer V. Andrade, n.d.)


Alexander, M. (2010). The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. The new press.

Lockyer V. Andrade. (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved 10 June, 2021, from

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