A Popular Case of Unjust Mandatory Minimum Sentencing for a First-Time Offender


There’s no reason that the criminal justice system should be going about doing things the way they are today when it comes to the imprisonment of minorities in America. Cases that are similar should be treated the same, and they should stop looking at things like race or whether or not a person is low, high, or middle class in determining their punishment for crimes. According to the New York Times, low-level drug offenders make up 93% of all traffickers. The majority of the convicted are African-Americans and other minorities, and the minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines that are in place make it even harder to give more reasonable sentences for first-time offenders.

   One Massachusetts judge’s red flag was raised when he noticed that a case that came in front of him might have been primary based on race. Judge Severlin Singleton from the Cambridge District Court once received a case involving a drug dealer who was caught with eight grams of cocaine and $1400 worth of cash. The District Attorney (DA) recommended that this offender (who was African-American) do six months out of a two year sentence, even though he had no prior offenses. Judge Singleton noticed that fact, and pleaded with the DA several times trying to change their minds about the sentence. Still, they maintained that this criminal should do the time that they had previously suggested.

   The day after he sentenced the man, Judge Singleton got another case that was similar. This time it involved a white man who was caught trying to buy pills and had three grams of cocaine on him. The DA recommended that this guy only serve probation, even though he had three prior drug convictions compared to the black offender’s zero. Judge Singleton asked the DA what the difference was between the first case and the one that was in front of him now. They said that the reason the second offender’s suggested sentence was shorter was because he had powdered cocaine, not crack, and that he wasn’t a seller, just a user that needed treatment. But, if that was the case (that he was simply an addict that needed help), then why did the DA require him to plead guilty to “possession with intent to distribute” in court?

   Judge Singleton had this to say in a letter to the DA’s office ordering them to explain themselves:

   “No other case or cases in my eleven years sitting as a judge have so strained my notion of justice, equal justice…”

-“Race on Trial, ABC News



Editorial. 18 February 2013. Unjust Mandatory Minimums. The New York Times Opinion Pages. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/19/opinion/unjust-mandatory-minimum-prison-sentences.html.


Films Media Group. (2002). Race on Trial [Video file]. ABC News Retrieved from




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