The Supreme Judicial Court held today that existing law does not provide a "safety valve" from mandatory minimums sentences, while calling on the legislature to consider reforms to the mandatory minimum drug laws that have produced harsh racial disparities in Massachusetts. In the wake of today's ruling, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts calls on state lawmakers to repeal the mandatory minimum sentences.
"Our elected leaders on both sides of the aisle now acknowledge that we cannot arrest our way out of the problem of substance abuse, despite prosecutors' ongoing efforts to do so. Today's ruling confirms that, as long as the mandatory minimum statute is on the books, excessive and racially discriminatory sentencing will continue year after year, injustice after injustice," said Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
In Commonwealth v. Laltaprasad, the ACLU defended a sentencing judge's authority to impose a below-minimum sentence in the case of Imran Laltaprasad, a disabled Black man convicted of possessing for distribution an amount of drugs weighing less than a five-gram packet of sugar. Mr. Laltaprasad had received a 2.5-year sentence from Middlesex Superior Court Judge Shannon Frison. That sentence departed from the statutory minimum of 3.5 years in recognition of the small drug amounts involved and Mr. Laltaprasad's dire physical condition. The Court's ruling will require Mr. Laltaprasad to serve out his 3.5-year term.
"Our client in this case is like many other people who are imprisoned each year on drug charges: disabled, Black, and a drug user," said Rahsaan Hall, ACLU of Massachusetts Racial Justice director. "Mr. Laltaprasad's case illustrates the failure of the war on drugs, and the outsized sentencing power that mandatory minimums give prosecutors."
"As decades of experience confirm, harsh sentences for drug offenses do not reduce the availability of drugs or make our communities safer," added Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. "If Massachusetts is going to take the problem of drug addiction seriously, it must meet lofty rhetoric with concrete action, and begin to unwind the damage to our justice system caused by nearly forty years of treating a public health problem with handcuffs and prison bars."