Alton Mills was not a drug kingpin. He wasn’t even a drug dealer. Alton didn’t have a stash of jewelry. He didn’t own a home. He couldn’t even afford a lawyer to defend him. Federal prosecutors admitted “the thrust of the evidence against Mills was that Mills did whatever [the drug ringleader] told him to do.” As a drug runner, Alton picked up cash from drug sports and delivered the cash to his bosses. He then delivered crack cocaine when and where his boss instructed. Alton was paid just $300 per week as a drug runner.
In 1994, Alton stood before federal judge Marvin Aspen for punishment. Alton was 24 years old. He had never been to prison before. Judge Aspen looked directly at Alton and reluctantly gave him a mandatory life sentence. Judge Marvin Aspen told the courtroom that Alton’s mandatory life sentence was “cruel and unusual” and said he wanted to sentencing Alton to “something other than life” but the 3 Strikes Law required a life sentence.
Judge Aspen continues to criticize the 3 Strikes Drug Law: “They were sold to the public, to law enforcement, and to the courts on the notion that disparities in sentencing would disappear, that there would be honesty in sentencing, and that everyone involved in a particular criminal activity would be punished proportionally with other people involved in that activity. I think we can see by this case how farcical that notion is in its application at times.” “The problem I saw right from the beginning is that discretion never goes away in sentencing,” Aspen explains. “It was shifted away from the court, to prosecutors, who have discretion in how they charge.”