Volume 11
Issue 2
Fall '19

Serving Time for Falling in Love: How the War on Drugs Operates to the Detriment of Women of Circumstance in Poor Urban Communities of Color

Written By: Maryln Harrell

Abstract

When she was twenty-six, Danielle Metz received three life sentences plus twenty years for a cocaine conspiracy in which her husband was the alleged ringleader. Danielle, a mother of two, was a first-time nonviolent offender. Investigators utilized different tactics to persuade her to cooperate. First, they assured her that their focus was her husband. Then, they threatened her parental rights. Still, Danielle would not cooperate. After a year, the government procured witnesses to testify against her. Some of these witnesses were serving sentences of thirty years and after testifying against Danielle, received sen-tence reductions or were set free. In a statement to the press, Danielle acknowledged “completing various tasks at my husband [sic] request including collection [sic] drug money. While I my [sic] actions should not have gone unpunished I feel that my sentence was unfair. If anything, my most serious offense was trying to salvage a failing marriage.1

The emergence of the War on Drugs introduced a new type of criminal defendant – the woman of circumstance. Women of circumstance, the majority of whom are women of color, are the wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters, and sisters of men involved in the drug trade who remain in the relationship and become inadvertently involved in crime due to financial reliance, blatant fear, or emotional attachment.2

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1. STEPHANIE BUSH-BASKETTE, MISGUIDED JUSTICE: THE WAR ON DRUGS AND THE INCARCERATION
OF BLACK WOMEN 23 (2010).

2. See Shimica Gaskins, “Women of Circumstance” – The Effects of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing on Women Minimally Involved in Drug Crimes, 41 AM. CRIM. L. REV. 1533, 1533 (2004).