Statutory Minimum and Maximum Sentences


The statutory minimum sentence for a crime is the smallest sentence that the legislature allows a judge to give a person convicted of that crime. For example, in Texas the statutory minimum for possession of more than 400 grams of cocaine with intent to distribute is 15 years in prison.

The statutory maximum, likewise, is the largest sentence that the legislature allows a judge to give a person convicted of that crime. For example, in Texas the statutory maximum for a first DWI is 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.

In federal court, some drug offenses have statutory minimums that aren’t true minimums. For example, the statutory minimum for possession of more than 500 grams of cocaine with intent to deliver is 5 years in prison. But if a person convicted of that crime qualifies for the safety valve (see here), or if the person receives a downward departure under section 5K1 of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, the statutory minimum does not apply.

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