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Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity

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Republican and Democratic Senators Query Gonzales on Crack Sentencing Views

User "puregenius" reports over in the Reader Blogs that Republican and Democratic senators -- Jeff Sessions and Pat Leahy -- queried Alberto Gonzales about his views on the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, in last Tuesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Dept. of Justice oversight. Short answer -- he likes it, they don't. Update: Just saw this link on TalkLeft to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the case of Derrick Kimbrough, a federal prisoner serving time on a crack cocaine offense. LDF contends that "The Crack Cocaine Sentencing Guidelines Have Resulted in Vast Racial Disparities" and "The Racial Disparities Associated with the Crack Cocaine Sentencing Guidelines Have Caused Widespread Distrust of the Law.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Heavy time for drug lightweights

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
San Francisco Chronicle
URL: 
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2007/07/10/EDG6QQ4VGJ1.DTL

Joe Biden Does Something Good On Drug Policy

I've taken swings at Joe Biden a couple times in The Speakeasy, so I'm very pleased to see this:
In a press release that does not seem to be available online, the American Civil Liberties Union praises Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), historically one of the most gung-ho drug warriors in the Democratic Party, for introducing a bill that would eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine powder. Previous proposals would have merely reduced the disparity, in some cases by making cocaine powder sentences more severe. By contrast, Biden's bill would raises the amount of crack that triggers a five-year mandatory minimum sentence to 500 grams, the same as the amount for cocaine powder. [reason]
Here's Biden's statement:
The current sentencing disparity between the two forms of cocaine is based on false notions and old logic. The bottom line is that there is no scientific justification for any disparity. Crack and powder are simply two forms of the same drug, and each form produces identical effects. I will soon be introducing legislation that eliminates the sentencing disparity completely, fixing this injustice once and for all.
Coming from a man whose drug war credentials include authoring the RAVE Act and creating ONDCP, this is an exciting surprise. While many consider fixing the crack/powder sentencing disparity a no-brainer, reducing federal drug sentences is certainly a bold move for Biden.

He's running for president right now, so Biden's willingness to challenge a drug war injustice suggests a shifting perception of the political implications of U.S. drug policy. As obviously flawed as the sentencing disparity is, it's not really that much more palatable than any number of other issues we're working on. If Biden can recognize this problem, there's much more he could potentially come to understand.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

 

Location: 
United States

Sentencing: Supreme Court to Decide Crack Sentencing Case

The US Supreme Court Monday agreed to hear the case of a Virginia man sentenced under the harsh federal crack cocaine laws. Coming after the high court has already agreed to hear two other cases related to federal sentencing, the decision will broaden its review of federal sentencing law by adding the notorious crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity to it.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/supremecourt2.jpg
US Supreme Court
Under federal law, it takes five grams of crack or 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence. Similarly, 10 grams of crack or 1,000 grams of powder cocaine merit a 10-year mandatory minimum. The 100:1 disparity in the amounts of the drug needed to trigger the mandatory minimum sentences has been the subject of numerous critics, including federal judges.

The case selected Monday was that of a Virginia man, Derrick Kimbrough, who pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing and distributing more than 50 grams of crack. Federal sentencing guidelines called for a sentencing range of 19 to 22 years, but Federal District Court Judge Raymond Jackson in Richmond pronounced such a sentence "ridiculous" and "clearly inappropriate," and sentenced Kimbrough to the lowest sentence he could, the mandatory minimum of 15 years.

But the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Jackson's reasoning and ordered resentencing. "A sentence that is outside the guidelines range is per se unreasonable when it is based on a disagreement with the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses," the three-judge appeals court panel said.

Other federal appeals courts disagree. Both the Third Circuit in Philadelphia and the District Colombia Circuit Court of Appeals have held that, as the Philadelphia appeals court put it, "a sentencing court errs when it believes that it has no discretion to consider the crack/powder cocaine differential incorporated in the guidelines." Both courts noted that the Supreme Court itself had made the federal sentencing guidelines advisory rather than mandatory in its 2005 ruling in Booker v. United States.

The other two federal sentencing cases the court has agreed to hear are also related to the confusion in the courts in the wake of Booker. One case, Rita v. United States, raises the question of whether a sentence within the guidelines range should be presumed reasonable. The second case, Gall v. United States, involved an Iowa college student given a sentence beneath the guidelines in an ecstasy case. The trial judge sentenced Gall to three years probation rather than three years in prison, but the US 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ordered resentencing, finding that such an "extraordinary" departure from the guidelines required "extraordinary" justification.

The Supreme Court will likely decide Rita in a few weeks, and will hear arguments in Gall in October. Kimbrough will carry over into the next term. But in the next few months, the Supreme Court will make decisions that will potentially affect the freedom of thousands of federal drug defendants each year.

Bush Seeks to Re-Impose Mandatory Minimums

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
CBS News
URL: 
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/06/13/politics/main2924206.shtml

Court to Weigh Disparities in Cocaine Laws

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
The New York Times
URL: 
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/12/washington/12scotus.html

Crack Cocaine Sentencing Headed to Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court has agreed to rule on the U.S. v. Kimbrough case, in which an eastern-Virginia US District Court judge, Raymond Jackson, sentenced a crack cocaine offender -- Derrick Kimbrough -- to a below-guidelines sentence, only to be overruled following an appeal by the government to the 4th Circuit. "Guidelines" here refers to the federal sentencing guidelines (similar to, but not to be confused with the mandatory minimums), in which certain very harsh sentences require only 1/100th the amount of crack cocaine to get triggered as is required of powder cocaine. The "government" here refers to federal prosecutors, who objected that Judge Jackson had based his view that the guidelines sentence for Kimbrough's offense was unreasonable (a requirement for downward departures in the post-Booker ruling federal sentencing world, at least for now) in part on his disagreement over the policy of the harsher sentences for crack offenders. The Court of Appeals in the 4th Circuit agreed, and Kimbrough's sentence was kicked back up to the much-criticized guidelines level. Also before the Court is the case of Victor Rita, another crack cocaine defendant. And the Court has promised to pick a case that deals with the same issue as the one that was at stake in the case of Mario Claiborne, who died earlier this year (info at same link). While there are far more whites who use crack cocaine than blacks, as the Associated Press reported today, "[m]ost crack cocaine offenders in federal courts are black." Why does the 4th Circuit Appeals Court see the intellectual path a judge took to get to a finding of unreasonableness as more important than the self-evidently unreasonable nature of the draconian sentences they are defending? Both Mr. Kimbrough and Judge Jackson are African American, by the way. They are also both veterans -- Kimbrough fought in the first Gulf War; Jackson has a decades-long military career that included a stint as a JAG and includes continuing service as a colonel in the Reserves. The 4th Circuit decision, which is only two paragraphs long, is not published online (or so I've read), but visit the post made about this case on the Sentencing Law and Policy blog and scroll down to the third comment to read it. Our topical archive on the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity is online here (though it only goes back to early fall -- you have to use the search engine for earlier stories). We also have a Federal Courts archive here Last but not least, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, click here to write to Congress in support of H.R. 460, Charlie Rangel's bill to reduce crack cocaine sentences to the same level as sentences for powder cocaine.
Location: 
United States

Charlie Rangel on Reentry, Crack Cocaine Sentencing and the Vote

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), a one-time drug warrior, made brief remarks on the floor of the US House of Representatives relating to criminal justice, including his support for the Second Chance Act (measures to help people coming out of prison to reenter society successfully) and for restoring the vote to people with past felony convictions, and his sponsorship of H.R. 460 to eliminate the harsher treatment that people convicted for crack cocaine offenses currently receive under the law relative to other cocaine offenses (along with other remarks that don't directly relate to drug policy). (Click here to write your US Representative in support of H.R. 460.) Nothing too huge here, but of interest, and good to see that the chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee is focused on things like this.
Location: 
United States

Press Release: Local Non-Profit Group Seeking to End Racist Drug Laws, Town Hall Meeting Set to Discuss Federal Law Reform, Activists & Politicians

For Immediate Release: May 31, 2007 Contact: Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, E: topssociety@yahoo.com, Tel: 334-685-7377 Local Non-Profit Group Seeking to End Racist Drug Laws Town Hall Meeting Set to Discuss Federal Law Reform, Activists & Politicians Birmingham - On June 2, 2007, The Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS) will co-sponsor a town hall meeting that will be hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Birmingham, Alabama on the need to repair the current discriminatory federal drug sentencing policy. The event is open to the press, and TOPS speakers will be available before and afterwards for interviews. What: The Incarceration Nation – Town Hall Meeting on Crack vs. Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparities Speakers: Congressman Artur Davis, (D - Birmingham) Senator Jeff Sessions (R - AL) (invited) Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, Executive Director of TOPS Ed Vaughan, President, Alabama State Conference NAACP Dr. Foster Cook, Director, UAB - Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities Deborah Vagins, Policy Council for Civil Rights, ACLU Washington Legislative Office Barry Hargrove, Field Organizer, ACLU Washington Legislative Office When: 9:00am - 1:00pm Saturday, June 2 Where: Church of the Reconciler - 112 14th Street, North - Birmingham, AL Currently, distributing just five grams of crack carries a minimum five-year federal prison sentence, while distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine carries the same sentence. Despite repeated recommendations by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Congress has not addressed this 100:1 sentencing disparity, which has devastated African-American communities and undermined faith in the criminal justice system. African-Americans comprise the vast majority of those convicted of crack cocaine offenses, although whites and Hispanics form the majority of crack users. “These laws highlight the indecent and subconscious racist tactics still supported in the criminal justice system,” said Kenneth Glasgow, Executive Director of The Ordinary People’s Society. “Five grams of crack cocaine sets forth a mandatory minimum of five years in prison, yet five-hundred grams of powder cocaine” A 2006 ACLU report found no medical or legal justification for the unfair sentencing disparity ratio. Although Congress' stated intent was to target high-level cocaine traffickers, the result has been just the opposite - a 2002 USSC report found that only 15 percent of federal cocaine traffickers can be classified as high-level, while over 70 percent of crack defendants have low-level involvement in drug activity, such as street level dealers, couriers, or lookouts. T.O.P.S. is a nonprofit, faith-based organization that offers hope, without regard to race sex, creed, color or social status, to individuals and their families who suffer the effects of drug addiction, incarceration, homelessness, unemployment, hunger and illness, through comprehensive faith-based programs that provide a continuum of unconditional acceptance and care. ### T.O.P.S. (The Ordinary People Society) are a nonprofit organization that will provide an alternative to criminal behavior. This is a faith-based organization that will bridge the gap between the have and have-nots. We will provide rehabilitation to the repeat offenders while creating a program that target the youths before they reach the Criminal Justice System. Since the War on Drugs has been established the prison populations have continued to increase costing taxpayers more than $20,000 per inmate. This method is draining many State Governments. Also, families are suffering due to the lost of a mother, father, sister or brother. With our counseling and street ministry we are providing a second chance for many of our citizens both drug users and drug pushers. We would like to extend our program to include an after school program for youths and also for some adults so they can take pride and improve their self-esteem while improving their own family's life. T.O.P.S. provides counseling services to Ramsey Youth Services, Houston County Jail, and Dothan City Jail. T.O.P.S. would like to include a transitional facility that will provide a structural environment that will include education, treatment, and rehabilitation.
Location: 
Birmingham, AL
United States

Alabama Townhall meeting on Discriminatory Federal Drug Sentencing

The ACLU Washington Legislative Office and the ACLU of Alabama will host a townhall meeting in Birmingham, Alabama on the need to repair the current discriminatory federal drug sentencing policy. The event is open to the press, and ACLU speakers will be available afterwards for interviews. Speakers include: -Senator Jeff Sessions (R - AL) (invited) -Ed Vaughan, President, Alabama State Conference NAACP -State Representative Artur Davis, (D - Birmingham) -Dr. Ralph Hendrix, University of Alabama at Birmingham -Deborah Vagins, Policy Council for Civil Rights, ACLU Washington Legislative Office -Barry Hargrove, Field Organizer, ACLU Washington Legislative Office Currently, distributing just five grams of crack carries a minimum five-year federal prison sentence, while distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine carries the same sentence. Despite repeated recommendations by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Congress has not addressed this 100:1 sentencing disparity, which has devastated African-American communities and undermined faith in the criminal justice system. African-Americans comprise the vast majority of those convicted of crack cocaine offenses, although whites and Hispanics form the majority of crack users. A 2006 ACLU report found no medical or legal justification for the unfair sentencing disparity ratio. Although Congress stated intent was to target high-level cocaine traffickers, the result has been just the opposite - a 2002 USSC report found that only 15 percent of federal cocaine traffickers can be classified as high-level, while over 70 percent of crack defendants have low-level involvement in drug activity, such as street level dealers, couriers, or lookouts. The ACLU report, "Cracks in the System: Twenty Years of the Unjust Federal Crack Cocaine Law," is available at: http://www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/sentencing/27181pub20061026.html
Date: 
Sat, 06/02/2007 - 9:00am - 3:00pm
Location: 
112 14th Street, North
Birmingham, AL 35203
United States

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