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FAMM Says: Make crack changes retroactive!

FAMM urges Sentencing Commission to make crack cocaine guideline amendment retroactive

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the nation's leading sentencing reform organization with 13,000 members, today calls on the U.S. Sentencing Commission to make retroactive the crack cocaine guideline amendment that went into effect on November 1. FAMM has spearheaded the effort to make the crack cocaine guideline change apply to people already in prison, helping generate over 30,000 letters to the Sentencing Commission in support of retroactivity.

On November 13, FAMM members from across the country will attend the Commission's public hearing on retroactivity in Washington, D.C., bearing photographs of their incarcerated loved ones. FAMM president Julie Stewart will also testify at the hearing at 3:30 p.m. "Retroactivity of the crack guideline will not only affect the lives of nearly 20,000 individuals in prison but that of thousands more - mothers, fathers, daughters and sons - who anxiously wait for them to return home." said Stewart.  Click here to read Stewart's testimony to the Commission. 

Since 1995, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has repeatedly advised Congress that there is no rational, scientific basis for the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine sentences. The Commission has also identified the disparity as the "single most important" factor in longer sentences for African Americans compared to other racial groups. The criminal law committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which represents the federal judges who would administer the application of the amendment to people in prison, has written the Commission in favor of retroactivity. Click here to read the letter.

"Nearly 80 percent of defendants convicted of federal crack cocaine offenses after Nov. 1 now face sentences 16 months shorter on average, thanks to sentencing guideline reforms approved by the U.S. Sentencing Commission," said Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). "The Sentencing Commission must now make the change retroactive. If a sentence is sufficient to serve the purposes of punishment for defendants in the future, it is sufficient for those who were sentenced under unjust rules in the past. Clearly, justice should not turn on the date an individual is sentenced."

Many FAMM members, including Lamont and Lawrence Garrison, would benefit if the changes are made retroactive. Arrested just months after graduating from Howard University, Lamont received 19 years and Lawrence received 15 years, respectively, after being accused of conspiring to distribute crack and powder cocaine. Both brothers would receive sentence reductions between three and four years.

However, neither the new guideline nor making it retroactive will impact the statutory 100-to-1 quantity disparity between crack and powder cocaine. "Congress must act to address the mandatory minimums that created the cocaine sentencing disparity in 1986 in order to ensure equal justice for all defendants," said Stewart.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is the national voice for fair and proportionate sentencing laws. FAMM shines a light on the human face of sentencing, advocate for state and federal sentencing reform, and mobilize thousands of individuals and families whose lives are adversely affected by unjust sentences.

For more information, visit or email

Washington, DC
United States

Public Hearing: New York State Commission On Sentencing Reform

Questions about this hearing may be directed to Patti Greco of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services at (518) 485-6084. Registration to testify and attend is required. A press conference and rally sponsored by the Real Reform Coalition will take place at 9:00 AM.
Tue, 11/13/2007 - 9:30am - 4:30pm
42 West 44th Street
New York, NY
United States

Death Penalty: Two More Drug Offenders Executed in Iran

Two more drug offenders were executed in Iran, this time in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchstan, the anti-death penalty group Hands Off Cain reported, citing accounts in Iranian state media. The executions come a week after Iranian authorities executed five men for violent crimes. Iranian authorities say most executions are for drug trafficking, but human rights groups have claimed that some people put to death for ordinary crimes, particularly drug crimes, are actually political opponents of the regime.

Jomeh Gomshadzehi was hanged in the city of Zahedan after being arrested with 3,300 kilos of opium, 84 kilos heroin, and 95 kilos of morphine. The state news agency IRNA identified him as a notorious drug trafficker who sent narcotics to Turkey and Arab states in the Gulf. It said that while trafficking drugs four years ago, he killed a policeman and then escaped to Dubai.

The second man, identified as Esmail Barani Piranvand, was sentenced to death in a prison in Iranshahr in the same province for the possession of 2.5 kilos of heroin, the state television website said.

Under Iranian law, the death penalty can be imposed for possession of more than 30 grams of heroin or five kilos of opium. Other death penalty offenses in Iran include blasphemy; apostasy; adultery; prostitution; homosexuality; and plotting to overthrow the Islamic regime, as well as murder, rape, and robbery.

Press Release: ABA Endorses BIDEN Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

[Courtesy of the Office of U.S. Senator Joe Biden, Jr.] FOR RELEASE: November 5, 2007 CONTACT: Elizabeth Alexander, 202-224-5042 ABA Endorses BIDEN Bill to Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity American Bar Association Applauds Biden’s Leadership on Sentencing Reform and Urges Senators to Support Biden Bill Washington, DC – The American Bar Association recently announced its “strong support” for Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s (D-DE) Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007 and “urge[d]” Senators to support the bill. Sen. Biden’s legislation would completely eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, two forms of the same drug, and it would also abolish the mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine, the only drug for which there exists a mandatory minimum sentence for mere possession for a first time offender. “Over twenty years ago, Congress enacted a sentencing scheme that punishes crack cocaine offenses far more severely than powder cocaine offenses," said Sen. Biden. "This is a terrible flaw in the criminal justice system. It’s based on the bogus notion that the crack form of cocaine is more dangerous and crack users are more violent than powder uses. And that logic just hasn’t played out.” Currently, under the so-called “100-to-1” cocaine sentencing disparity it takes 100 times more powder cocaine than crack to trigger the five- and ten-year mandatory minimum sentences under federal law. In other words, powder cocaine offenders who traffic 500 grams of powder (2,500-5,000 doses) receive the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as crack cocaine offenders who simply possess just 5 grams of crack (10-50 doses). “I applaud and appreciate the American Bar Association’s decision to stand with me on this important issue,” said Sen. Biden. “It’s time for Congress to act in a real way. The current 100:1 disparity is unjust, unfair, and the time has long past for it to be undone. I look forward to working with the ABA and others to enact my bill into law.”
Washington, DC
United States

Public Forum: Should drugs be decriminalized?

Mark Forsythe of CBC radio will be host/moderator for this special event featuring retired provincial court judge Jerry Paradis and Tony Smith, a retired police officer. Both men are members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). Educators for Sensible Drug Policy will be there to participate in this community dialogue and will hand out Safety1st brochures, Beyond Zero Tolerance booklets and an EFSDP information kit. "The idea for the LEAP forum, like all our courses, is ours," said Eldercollege chair Anne Carr.
Sat, 11/03/2007 - 4:00pm
5904 Cowrie Street
Sechelt, BC

Press Release: ACLU Praises USSC for Change to Federal Drug Sentencing Guidelines, Fairness and Consistency in Sentencing Now Require Such Changes Be Applied Retroactively

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Washington, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union today praised the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) for taking action to bring the guideline ranges for crack cocaine federal sentences back in line with the mandatory minimum statute. As a result of the previous guidelines, crack cocaine defendants sentenced to the mandatory minimums often served many more months than required by the law for their offense. The ACLU now calls upon the USSC to make such changes retroactive, joining a growing chorus of organizations and individuals who believe such changes are an important step toward parity and justice in cocaine sentencing. "A retroactive change in the guidelines would offer relief to thousands of defendants who, because of the inconsistency caused by the sentencing guidelines, received sentences higher than the mandatory minimum," said Jesselyn McCurdy, legislative counsel for the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "For the sake of consistency and basic fairness under the law, this change must be retroactive. "There is a widespread perception, particularly in African-American communities, of racial bias within the criminal justice system. For example, drug sentencing guidelines impacting other racial groups, such as those involving LSD, marijuana, and oxycodone, have been made retroactive by the commission in the past. Such perceptions of racial bias would only be magnified if corrected sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses aren't also made retroactive." Neither the new guidelines nor their retroactivity will impact the statutory 100-to-1 quantity disparity between crack and powder cocaine, identified by the USSC as the "single most important" factor accounting for longer sentences imposed on African-Americans relative to other racial groups. The ball is in Congress’ court to make the statutory fix, and the USSC has expressed its firm desire "for prompt congressional action." As an interim measure, however, making the USSC’s proposed guidelines retroactive would be a significant step towards correcting over two decades of injustice in cocaine sentencing.
Washington, DC
United States

Sentencing Commission Reduces Penalties for Crack Cocaine Offenses

[Courtesy of The Sentencing Project] Friends, At a time of growing national concern about unequal treatment within the justice system, the United States Sentencing Commission today lowered the Guideline sentences for offenses involving crack cocaine, likely impacting 3,500 federally sentenced defendants each year. Commission concerns about the excessive penalty structure for crack cocaine offenses prompted the change that on average will reduce defendants' sentences by 15 months. The Commission sets an advisory guideline range that federal judges use when sentencing defendants. Under the old range, average sentences for crack cocaine offenses were 121 months. Now the estimated average sentence will be 106 months. In May the Commission recommended statutory reforms and proposed to Congress the amendment to decrease the guideline offense level for crack cocaine offenses. The amendment went unchallenged by Congress and therefore takes effect today. According to Commission analysis, the modification would reduce the size of the federal prison population by 3,800 in 15 years. Such a reduction would result in savings of over $87 million, according to The Sentencing Project. This change, however, only addresses one aspect of the controversy surrounding crack cocaine sentencing. The Commission is currently considering whether to apply the amendment retroactively - a move that would make approximately 19,500 persons in prison eligible for a reduced sentence. The Commission will hear testimony on this issue at a Nov. 13 public hearing at which I will testify in favor of retroactivity. In a submission to the Commission, The Sentencing Project argues that "the Commission, courts, and commentators all have recognized the undue disparity caused by the Guidelines since their inception. Thus, defendants who were incarcerated when the problems with the crack Guidelines first became evident should also be granted an opportunity to pursue the benefit of this long overdue remedy." The new policy comes on the heels of oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in Kimbrough v. the United States. The high court is being asked to uphold the authority of federal judges to depart from the sentencing guidelines in crack cocaine cases when they disagree with sentencing policy. Furthermore, bipartisan reform legislation is pending in Congress and hearings addressing the statutory mandatory minimum sentences are expected this fall. Use the following links to read The Sentencing Project's letter to the Commission urging retroactivity, and learn more about the momentum to end the sentencing disparity at: Regards, Marc Mauer
United States

Southeast Asia: Indonesia Constitutional Court Upholds Death Penalty For Drug Offenses

Indonesia's Constitutional Court ruled Tuesday that sentencing drug offenders to death does not violate the constitution. The ruling came in a case lodged by three Australians who face execution for trying to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia.

The three were among the "Bali Nine," a group of Australians busted together. Six were sentenced to death, two got life in prison, and one got 20 years. The ruling will be a blow to them, as well as to the 134 other people on death row in the archipelago, most of them there for drug offenses.

The Australians argued that the Indonesian constitution's clause on the right to life overrode the criminal code's stipulation that serious crimes can be punished by death. The constitutional court disagreed.

The death penalty for drug offenses continues to have strong support among Indonesian government officials, judges and prosecutors, and law enforcement. At least eight people have been executed there since 2000.

Feature: New, Less Severe Federal Crack Cocaine Sentencing Guidelines Go Into Effect, But Will They Be Retroactive?

Since Congress failed to act by Thursday to stop them, new, less severe federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses promulgated by the US Sentencing Commission are now in effect. That means some 4,000 federal crack defendants each year can now count on marginally shorter sentences. For those serving the longest sentences that could mean years off.
DEA crack cocaine photo
"We're very encouraged about this reform," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "What the Sentencing Commission is doing is terrific and long overdue."

Under federal drug laws adopted by Congress in the mid-1980s, crack offenders are treated much more severely than powder cocaine offenders. Selling five grams of crack carries a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, while it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to merit the same treatment.

The Sentencing Commission, whose job it is to set federal sentencing guidelines, responded to the mandatory minimums by adjusting the guidelines to incorporate them, resulting in guideline sentences that were above the mandatory minimums. The Commission also tried, in 1995, to reduce crack cocaine sentences to match those for powder cocaine, a move that prompted Congress to reverse the Commission's recommendation for the first time in its history. Now, in frustration with congressional failure to deal with the rising clamor over the inequities of the federal cocaine laws, the commission has amended the guidelines to lower the base offense levels for crack convictions.

The differences this time are marginal, but will still make a difference for those facing federal crack time. For example, instead of a sentencing range of 12 to 15 years for a certain drug quantity, defendants will face 10 to 12 years.

But the Sentencing Commission has not yet decided whether to make those changes retroactive, a move that, according to a Sentencing Commission impact analysis published in October, could bring relief to nearly 20,000 crack defendants currently behind federal prison bars -- about 85% of them black. It has the authority to do so; the question is whether it has the political will. The commission recently extended the period for public comment on the retroactivity issue from October 1 to November 1, and has scheduled a November 13 public hearing.
prison dorm
The response has been intense, with the commission reporting that more than a thousand comments have been received -- most of them favoring retroactivity. That is at least in part because groups like Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) have launched a campaign to support the commission's long-held position that the racial disparity in cocaine sentences undermines the objectives of the country's sentencing laws.

It's not just FAMM. The American Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Federal Public and Community Defenders, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and numerous other groups have weighed in in support of retroactivity.

"Retroactivity is huge," said Nora Callahan, executive director of the November Coalition, an anti-prohibitionist group that concentrates on drug war prisoners. "If it isn't retroactive, it isn't justice," she said.

"The commission has for years acknowledged the adverse impacts of the current sentencing structure, and that hasn't gone unnoticed," Callahan continued. "The system lacks transparency, consistency, and fairness. That's not the commission's fault, but it is the commission's responsibility to address these issues. Reducing the racial disparities resulting from the crack laws cannot be accomplished without retroactivity. If there is no relief, that will only breed more despair and disrespect for the law," she said.

"I'm encouraged about retroactivity because there have been thousands of comments sent to the commission supporting it," said Mauer. "The commission has both a moral and a practical reason to support retroactivity. In terms of equity issues, there is a strong argument for retroactivity there. The commission has been on record since 1995 recommending reform of the crack penalties, and it seems to us that anyone sentenced since then should certainly be eligible to receive these reductions. If the commission supports retroactivity, it would be entirely consistent with what it has been recommending for years."

The Sentencing Commission's crack sentencing guideline amendment that went into effect this week and its pending decision on retroactivity come as the federal crack laws are under attack from all sides. The Supreme Court is considering them in the recently heard Kimbrough case, and at least three bills to address the crack-powder sentencing disparity are pending in Congress.

"There is more momentum now than at any time since the laws were established two decades ago," said Mauer. "It is that overdue recognition that the laws don't make sense, they're ineffective, and they are having a terrible racial impact. It's very encouraging to see this critique of the crack laws coming from all these different directions. We don't know how it will all play out, but there is a growing consensus that some reform will take place."

Hopefully it will include those already imprisoned under the draconian federal crack laws, some of whom have been behind bars since 1992. If not, the bulging federal prison system could see ominous rumbling like it hasn't seen for a decade -- the last time crack prisoners got their hopes up, only to see them dashed.

Sentencing Reform: Massachusetts Bar Association Forms Drug Policy Task Force

The Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) will form a drug policy task force, MBA President David White, Jr. announced last week. The task force will examine current drug policy and consider reforms, White said.

"We look to build a coalition from a broad spectrum of the Massachusetts health care, business and law enforcement communities. The coalition will take a hard look at the difficult questions of drug addiction and punishment of drug-related crimes," said White. "This is one part of our effort to improve sentencing in Massachusetts. Reforms of the current sentencing system will reduce crime, rebuild families and communities and save money," he added.

White's announcement came as a two-hour symposium on sentencing at the Statehouse Great Hall came to an end. During that symposium, panels of legislators, advocates, and attorneys suggested that the Bay State could see meaningful sentencing reform for the first time in years.

"I'm more optimistic than ever that we can have a useful discussion," said panelist state Sen. Robert Creedon Jr., Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

Mandatory minimum sentencing came under attack from several panelists, including at least one law enforcement official. Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral said mandatory minimums make treating inmates with drug problems more difficult and constitute obstacles to rehabilitation.

"The sheriffs, we are on the forefront of reentry programs, but we are stymied by mandatory minimums that don't allow us to classify people for acceptance into some of our programs," Cabral said.

Other panelists at the symposium included Northeastern University criminal justice professor James Alan Fox, Families Against Mandatory Minimums vice president and general counsel Mary Price, Washington state Rep. Roger Goodman (who leads the pioneering King County Bar Association Drug Policy Project), and several ranking Massachusetts elected officials.

White was named head of the MBA earlier this year. He has said that sentencing reform is one of his top priorities.

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