Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity

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DPA Press Release: US Sentencing Commission urges Congress to Reduce Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

For Immediate Release: May 17, 2007 Contact: Jasmine L. Tyler at 202-294-8292 US Sentencing Commission urges Congress to Reduce Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity Experts to Brief Congress on Current Cocaine Policy and the Need for Reform Washington, DC—Criminal justice experts will hold briefings on the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity for Congressional staffers on Monday, May 21. They will discuss the United States Sentencing Commission’s (USSC) May 2007 Guideline Amendment and Report to Congress. Joining the panel will be Hilary Shelton from the NAACP, Pat Nolan from Prison Fellowship, and Lisa Rich from the USSC. These briefings will be moderated by Jessalyn McCurdy of the ACLU and Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project. The briefing is co-sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance. ********************************************************************* WHAT: Reforming Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing Briefing for Congressional staffers WHO: Members of Congress and staff, media, policy advocates, stakeholders, treatment providers, faith leaders When: Monday, May 21 House Briefing: 9 a.m. - B340 Rayburn House Office Building Senate Briefing: 2 p.m. - 485 Russell Senate Office Building ********************************************************************* Twenty years ago when the crack cocaine sentencing laws were first passed by Congress, the United States faced a panic about the alleged “crack epidemic” and operated under the impression that crack had inherent properties that made it infinitely more dangerous than powder cocaine. These reports, which served as the basis for the huge disparity, have since been found to be fundamentally flawed, rendering the 100-to-1 disparity arbitrary and capricious. Further, these laws have proven ineffective in reducing drug use or distribution and have instead exacerbated racial disparity and injustices in our criminal justice system. The USSC has taken the lead on eliminating the crack/powder sentencing disparity by amending the federal sentencing guidelines to lessen the punishment range for crack cocaine cases by approximately one to two years. The Commission also urged Congress to reform federal mandatory minimum sentences to reduce the statutory disparity. Currently, there is growing bipartisan support for reforming the crack/powder disparity. There are two house bills pending and a similar one before the Senate. # # #
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

FAMM urges Congress to heed message from Commission, New report finds crack disparity unjustifiable, up to Congress to fix the problem

WASHINGTON, D.C.: Federal crack cocaine penalties overstate the harmfulness of the drug, apply mostly to low-level offenders, and hit minorities hardest, concludes the U.S. Sentencing Commission in a new report to Congress, "Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy," released today, May 15. Based on these findings, the Commission maintains it's consistently held position that current crack cocaine penalties significantly undermine the congressional objectives of the Sentencing Reform Act, including fairness, uniformity and proportionality. The solution? Congress should act, says the report. Mary Price, vice president and general counsel of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a national, nonpartisan sentencing reform organization, says, "The prisoners, children and families torn apart by these unjustifiably harsh penalties are watching closely and will welcome crack sentencing reforms that restore some justice to crack penalties. Only Congress can change our harsh mandatory minimum crack laws. Lawmakers should not squander the important opportunity presented by the most recent set of findings and recommendations by the Sentencing Commission. The time is ripe for reform, especially given the bipartisan support for crack sentencing reform that has emerged in recent years." In its report, the Commission again unanimously and strongly urged Congress to act promptly on the following recommendations: (1) Increase the five-year and ten-year mandatory minimum threshold quantities for crack cocaine offenses to focus the penalties more closely on serious and major traffickers, (2) Repeal the mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine and (3) Reject addressing the 100-to-1 disparity by decreasing the five-year and ten-year mandatory minimum threshold quantities for powder cocaine offenses, citing no evidence to justify such an increase in quantity-based penalties for powder cocaine offenses. In addition, the Commission seeks authority to incorporate any future changes to the mandatory minimums for crack into the federal sentencing guidelines. FAMM strongly supports these recommendations and looks forward to working with members of Congress to implement these reasonable and long-overdue reforms to crack cocaine sentencing. Visit www.ussc.gov to read the report. --------------------------------------------------- Note on Second Chance Act H.R. 1593, the Second Chance Act, was pulled from the floor of the House of Representatives before it was voted on. FAMM is investigating this unexpected action and will follow up with more information on www.famm.org and ealerts. --------------------------------------------------- What is FAMM? FAMM is the national voice for fair and proportionate sentencing laws. We shine 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 www.famm.org or email famm@famm.org.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Congressional Staff Briefing (Senate): Reforming Crack Cocaine Sentencing

On May 15, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) updated its 2002 Report to Congress on Federal Cocaine Sentencing. The USSC report once again finds that there is no rationale for the sentencing differences between the two forms of the drug. Under current law, possessing or selling 5 grams of crack cocaine results in the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as selling 500 grams of powder cocaine. The law harshly punishes low-level offenders, and has had a disparate impact on African-American and low-income communities. Join us in a frank discussion on avenues for reform of this unjust law. Speakers to include: Lisa Rich, United States Sentencing Commission Hillary Shelton (Invited), NAACP, Washington Office Pat Nolan, Prison Fellowship Moderated by Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project & Jesselyn McCurdy of the ACLU RSVP by May 18 to Vee Campbell (vcampbell@osi-dc.org) or call (202) 721-5649.
Date: 
Mon, 05/21/2007 - 2:00pm
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Congressional Staff Briefing (House): Reforming Crack Cocaine Sentencing

On May 15, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) updated its 2002 Report to Congress on Federal Cocaine Sentencing. The USSC report once again finds that there is no rationale for the sentencing differences between the two forms of the drug. Under current law, possessing or selling 5 grams of crack cocaine results in the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as selling 500 grams of powder cocaine. The law harshly punishes low-level offenders, and has had a disparate impact on African-American and low-income communities. Join us in a frank discussion on avenues for reform of this unjust law. Speakers to include: Lisa Rich, United States Sentencing Commission Hillary Shelton (Invited), NAACP, Washington Office Pat Nolan, Prison Fellowship Moderated by Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project & Jesselyn McCurdy of the ACLU RSVP by May 18 to Vee Campbell (vcampbell@osi-dc.org) or call (202) 721-5649.
Date: 
Mon, 05/21/2007 - 9:00am
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Big News: Sentencing Commission Crack Cocaine Sentencing Report is Out

This issue has dragged on for too long -- I've been working on it since 1994, and that wasn't the beginning of it. Hopefully this new report from the US Sentencing Commission will help bring about some change, even if still woefully insufficient. Commentary I have seen online at the time of this writing:
Prof. Doug Berman on the Sentencing Law and Policy blog Alex Coolman on Drug Law Blog Jeralyn Merritt on TalkLeft Families Against Mandatory Minimums press release
Also our feature story on USSC's recommendations to Congress on the issue, effective unless Congress votes to block them, Drug War Chronicle issue before last. Talk amongst yourselves... :)
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FedCURE News: Prospective and Retroactive Application of the New USSC Crack Cocaine Guideline Amendment

On 27 April 2007, the US Sentencing Commission (USSC) voted to approve an amendment of the crack cocaine guidelines to lower applicable sentence ranges. In its press release (http://www.ussc.gov/PRESS/rel0407.htm), the USSC announced that a forthcoming report "will set forth current data and information that continue to support the Commission's consistently held position that the 100-to-1 crack-powder drug quantity ratio significantly undermines various congressional objectives set forth in the Sentencing Reform Act and elsewhere." The report has not been published as of this date. FedCURE will post the report as soon as it becomes available. You can check the USSC site at: http://www.ussc.gov. Because of Booker and various retroactivity rules, it is uncertain as to how the crack amendment will impact present and past cases. Prospectively, the new guidelines could effect 4,000 to 5,000 federal sentencing cases every year. The USSC has authority to make amendments retroactive, albeit, rarely does. The USSC 27 April 2007 press release does not address the issue of retroactivity, and those currently incarcerated for crack offense--some 50,000 to 60,000 federal offenders--are anxious to know. Hopefully the much anticipated USSC report will answer this question and more. It is noted here that the USSC guideline amendment is only a proposal to Congress. The House and the Senate would have to enact specific bills to defeat the amendment. Congress will have six months to consider the amendment. However, the law states that if Congress takes no action before 01 November 2007, the amendment automatically takes effect on 01 November 2007. FedCURE P.O. Box 15667 Plantation, Florida 33318-5667 USA Web Site: http://www.FedCURE.org E-mail: FedCURE@FedCURE.org
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United States

Feature: US Sentencing Commission Announces Reduction in Crack Cocaine Sentences

In an annual report sent to Congress Monday, the US Sentencing Commission announced it had amended federal sentencing guidelines to lower the sentences imposed on people convicted of federal crack cocaine offenses. Unless Congress takes affirmative action to block the move, it will go into effect on November 1. The report also urged Congress to address the 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/lenbias.jpg
The tragic death of basketball star Len Bias in the 1980s prompted passage of the harsh crack sentencing law. But Bias actually overdosed on powder cocaine. (photo from ONDCP's ''Pushing Back'' web site)
Under the controversial crack laws, people convicted of distribution offenses involving five grams of the drug face five-year mandatory minimum prison sentences, while it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same penalty. Similarly, someone convicted of distributing more than 50 grams of crack faces a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, while it would take five kilograms of powder cocaine to get the 10 years.

But while the congressionally mandated sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine is extreme, federal sentencing guidelines make it even worse for the low-level offenders caught under the federal crack laws. The guidelines currently call for a sentencing range of 63 to 78 months for five grams and 121 to 151 months for 50 grams. In both cases, the bottom of the guideline range falls above the mandatory minimum sentence set by Congress.

In an April 27 meeting, the Sentencing Commission voted to reduce the guideline ranges to 51 to 63 months and 97 to 121 months, respectively. Under this scheme, what is currently the low end of the guideline range will become the top end. According to the commission, 78% of federal crack defendants will benefit from the change, with sentence reductions averaging 16 months. With some 5,000 people being convicted under the federal crack laws each year, the move will have an impact.

That is, unless Congress moves to block it. On four previous occasions, the Sentencing Commission has recommended changes to lessen the gap between powder and crack cocaine offenses, but Congress blocked each of those initiatives. It also punished the commission for its temerity in suggesting that the crack-powder disparity be eliminated in 1995 by allowing the commission to dwindle to one member.

"The Commission has long recognized that the current guidelines scheme is unjust, and an amendment is long overdue," said Carmen Hernandez, president-elect of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL) in a speech responding to the sentencing changes. "Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fact that 83% of inmates serving time in the federal system for crack cocaine are minorities, and their sentences are more than 50% longer than inmates serving time for cocaine powder, even though crack defendants tend to be low-level street dealers. In fact, the average sentence for possession of crack cocaine is far longer than the average sentences for violent crimes such as robbery and sexual abuse," she noted.

"NACDL urges Congress to respect the Commission's decision, which was made after consideration of the testimony and evidence that it has reviewed at Congress' direction for more than a decade and allow these amendments to go into effect," the group said in a press release. "We also recommend to Congress that it carefully consider the reports and evidence the Commission has compiled."

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a group whose name is self-explanatory, greeted the amendment by noting that is "has been a long time coming." FAMM noted that the commission considered the sentencing change as "a modest step toward alleviating some of the disparity in sentencing of crack defendants but it is not a solution to the problem because Congress needs to address the mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, over which the Commission has no control." The group will urge Congress to take action to further reform crack mandatory minimums, it said.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/prisondorm.jpg
federal prison dorm
"This is a pretend reform; it isn't enough," said Nora Callahan, executive director of the November Coalition, a drug reform group concentrating on freeing drug war prisoners. "This is dramatically less than what the commission asked for in 1994, and it is just heartbreaking that we haven't come any further than this. They think they can throw us a bone and we'll calm down for another 10 years, but we're not going to calm down," she told Drug War Chronicle.

The Sentencing Commission has been cowed by Congress and should be revamped, Callahan said. "We need a brand new, independent commission that can't be intimidated," she argued. "When this commission recommended dramatic reform a few years ago, Congress not only didn't do it, but it spanked them hard and ended up politicizing the commission, and the commission learned its lesson: Just ask for a little bit and tell Congress 'you fix it,'" she said.

A new commission should be modeled on police oversight boards and state sentencing commissions, Callahan suggested. It should include former prisoners and family members, too. "These people need to be on the commission, as do the people who are dealing with all the offenders coming back into the community," she said.

While Congress has for the past two decades given little heed to concerns about the crack-powder sentencing disparity and its disproportionate impact on minority communities, there could be some movement this year, said Bill Piper, head of government relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.

"Rep. Rangel introduced a bill months ago that would eliminate the disparity," he told the Chronicle. "And Sen. Sessions has told the press he will introduce some sort of reform bill at some point. I suspect that now that the full report has come out, there will probably be some hearings. Rep. Conyers has suggested that might happen, but no hearing dates have been set yet," he explained.

"My sense is that the stars are starting to align themselves in a very good way," Piper prophesied. "There is interest in this in both the House and Senate judiciary committees, including among some Republicans. Now, the Sentencing Commission report is in. It is just a matter of when the process will start and finish," he said. "Still, I don't think anyone believes we will see it actually pass this year, and if it did, Bush would veto it."

While it appears unlikely Congress will act to redress the inequities of the federal crack laws this year, it seems equally unlikely to move affirmatively to block the Sentencing Commission's minor sentencing reform. Now, after two decades that have seen thousands of young black and brown people sent up the river for years for picayune crack offenses, it looks like the tide is beginning to turn.

FAMM eGram: U.S. Sentencing Commission votes for changes to crack cocaine guidelines

[Courtesy of Families Against Mandatory Minimums] WASHINGTON, D.C.: For the first time in 12 years, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has approved guideline changes to federal crack cocaine penalties, tonight by a 6-1 vote. The amendment affects approximately 78 percent of defendants convicted of crack cocaine offenses, reducing their sentences by an average of 16 months. It will now be sent to Congress on May 1, 2007, along with other proposed sentencing amendments. "While this incremental change is a far cry from the 'equalization' of crack and powder cocaine the Commission recommended in 1995, it is a long overdue first step to improving crack sentences," said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a national, nonpartisan sentencing reform organization. For 15 years the Commission has researched crack cocaine and its penalties and concluded current federal crack sentences are unjustifiable. Among the findings from its 2002 report to Congress, "Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy," are that crack penalties 1. exaggerate the relative harmfulness of crack cocaine 2. sweep too broadly and apply most often to lower level offenders 3. overstate the seriousness of most crack cocaine offenses and fail to provide adequate proportionality 4. and mostly impact minorities Despite this evidence, Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission have been in a stalemate for a dozen years over how to improve crack sentences. During that time, nearly 56,000 people were sentenced under the harsh federal crack cocaine statutes and guidelines. Now, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has taken the bold step of saying enough is enough. "While the Commission’s amendment does not solve the problem of excessive crack cocaine penalties it moves us closer to that goal, which is why FAMM supports the Commission's crack amendment," says Stewart. Congress has six months to consider the amendments before they automatically take effect on November 1, 2007. Congress would have to pass bills in both the House and Senate to stop the amendment. It is highly unlikely such an action will happen this year. If passed, the amendment will not affect people sentenced before November 1, 2007. The U.S. Sentencing Commission’s crack guideline amendment will be accompanied by language to Congress that urges them to address the crack cocaine mandatory minimum. Combined changes to the sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum statutes for crack cocaine would result in more appropriate penalties for roughly 5,000 defendants who face crack sentences each year. With their faces in mind, FAMM applauds the Commission for acting on an injustice that can no longer be tolerated. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes just sentencing policies. For more information, visit: www.famm.org.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

FedCURE News: USSC Reduces Crack Cocaine Offenses Up to 16 Months

For Immediate Release: April 27, 2007 Contact: Michael Courlander, Public Affairs Officer at (202) 502-4597 U.S. SENTENCING COMMISSION VOTES TO AMEND GUIDELINES FOR TERRORISM, SEX OFFENSES, INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY OFFENSES, AND CRACK COCAINE OFFENSES WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 27, 2007) — The United States Sentencing Commission held its final public meetings for the 2006-2007 guideline amendment cycle, promulgating amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines today and on April 18, 2007, on several important issues. Among other actions, the Commission voted to promulgate and submit to Congress sentencing guideline amendments regarding offenses that include terrorism, sex offenses, and intellectual property offenses. It also took action to address sentencing disparities resulting from federal cocaine sentencing policies. On April 18, 2007, the Commission voted to promulgate amendments that include – - an amendment implementing provisions of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 and the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007. The amendment establishes new guideline penalties for offenses created by the PATRIOT Reauthorization Act relating to (1) narco-terrorism, (2) smuggling of munitions or military equipment without the required validated export license, (3) mining of U.S. navigable waters, and (4) destroying or tampering with aids to maritime navigation. The amendment also addresses a new offense created by the Homeland Security Act pertaining to the construction, financing, or use of tunnels that cross the borders of the United States. - a multi-part amendment implementing the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. The amendment establishes guideline penalties for failure to register as a sex offender and provides significant sentencing enhancements if a defendant commits certain offenses after failing to register. Further, the amendment creates another guideline provision that provides additional punishment for certain aggravated offenses related to the requirement to register as a sex offender. This additional penalty would run consecutive to any sentence imposed for the failure to register offense or any sentence imposed for an enumerated underlying offense. The amendment also implemented other provisions of the Adam Walsh Act that provided enhanced penalties for sexual offenses. - a temporary, emergency amendment that implemented a directive in the Stop Counterfeiting in Manufactured Goods Act regarding criminal infringement of copyright or trademark. Specifically, the amendment addresses convictions under 18 U.S.C. § 2318 (trafficking in counterfeit labels) and 18 U.S.C. § 2320 (trafficking in counterfeit goods or services). These offenses involve trafficking in counterfeit labels that are not affixed to goods. The amendment provides for increased sentences based on the retail value of the genuine good that the counterfeit label would help imitate if the label’s use would lead a reasonably informed purchaser to believe that the counterfeit good was an identifiable, genuine good. The amendment also provides increased sentences for cases involving use of a circumvention device under 7 U.S.C. §§ 1201 and 1204. Circumvention devices would include "mod" chips that allow game consoles to play pirated games. The amendment includes a specific sentencing enhancement for trafficking in such items. - emergency and permanent amendments implementing a directive in the Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006. This Act creates a new offense at 18 U.S.C. § 1039 making it a crime to knowingly and falsely obtain confidential telephone records. The Commission implemented the directive by incorporating this new offense into an existing guideline covering other private or protected information (§2H3.1). - revisions to how a defendant’s criminal history score is computed for certain minor offenses. - guidance on motions by the Bureau of Prisons for reductions in sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). At its April 18, 2007, public meeting, the Commission also announced its intention to form a standing victims advisory group to provide the Commission with input regarding federal crime victimization. In addition to those earlier actions, the Commission unanimously announced today that it will submit to Congress on or before May 15, 2007, a report on federal cocaine sentencing policy. The report will set forth current data and information that continue to support the Commission’s consistently held position that the 100-to-1 crack-powder drug quantity ratio significantly undermines various congressional objectives set forth in the Sentencing Reform Act and elsewhere. The Commission also will make recommendations to Congress in the report for modifications to the statutory penalties for crack cocaine offenses. At today’s meeting, the Commission expressed its firm desire that this report will facilitate prompt congressional action addressing the 100-to-1 crack-powder drug quantity ratio. The Commission also voted today to promulgate an amendment that modifies the penalties for crack cocaine offenses. The Commission described the problems associated with the 100-to-1 drug quantity ratio as so urgent and compelling that it promulgated the guideline amendment as a measure to alleviate some of those problems. The statutory penalties for crack cocaine offenses require a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for a first-time trafficking offense involving 5 grams or more of crack cocaine, and a ten-year mandatory minimum penalty for a first-time trafficking offense involving 50 grams or more of crack cocaine. When Congress established these penalties in 1986, the Commission responded by incorporating the statutory mandatory minimum sentences into the guidelines to provide guideline sentencing ranges that are above the statutory mandatory minimum penalties. First-time offenses involving 5 grams or more of crack cocaine receive a sentencing guideline range of 63 to 78 months, and first-time offenses involving 50 grams or more of crack cocaine receive a sentencing guideline range of 121 to 151 months, before accounting for other relevant factors under the guidelines. The Commission’s amendment modifies the guideline drug quantity thresholds to provide guideline sentencing ranges that include the statutory mandatory minimum penalties for crack cocaine offenses. Accordingly, under the amendment, a first-time trafficking offense involving 5 grams of crack cocaine will receive a guideline sentencing range of 51 to 63 months, and a first-time trafficking offense involving 50 grams or more of crack cocaine will receive a guideline sentencing range of 97 to 121 months, before accounting for other relevant factors under the guidelines. Under the statutory mandatory minimum penalties, however, a five- and ten-year sentence will still be required, respectively. As a result, the Commission’s amendment provides some relief to crack cocaine offenders impacted by the disparity created by federal cocaine sentencing policy. The Commission emphasized and expressed its strong view that the amendment is only a partial solution to some of the problems associated with the 100-to-1 drug quantity ratio. Any comprehensive solution to the 100-to-1 drug quantity ratio would require appropriate legislative action by Congress. The text of the Commission’s amendments and its accompanying 2007 report to Congress, Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy, will be available in the coming weeks on the Commission’s website, www.ussc.gov. The Commission was established by Congress in 1985 to develop national sentencing guidelines for the federal courts. Any amendments made by the Commission to the guidelines must be submitted to Congress on or before May 1 of each year and become effective on November 1 if not disapproved by Congress. http://www.ussc.gov/PRESS/rel0407.htm
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Partial Crack Cocaine Sentencing Reform Approved by Sentencing Commission

The US Sentencing Commission has voted for a partial reform to the infamous crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity -- Families Against Mandatory Minimums announced Friday. According to FAMM the new rules would help about 78% of federal prisoners serving crack cocaine offenses by reducing their penalties about 16 months. We consider it a small but important step -- even equalizing the penalties would be kind of small when measured next to the vast federal gulag -- but it will help some people and it's a start. When the Commission voted 4-3 for equalization of crack and powder cocaine penalties almost 12 years ago, Congress voted -- for the first time in the history of the Sentencing Commission -- to block the reform. Had Congress not acted, the quantity thresholds triggering draconian five- and ten-year mandatory sentences for crack cocaine -- five grams and 500 grams, amounts that have been compared with a sugar packet and a candy bar, respectively -- would have been raised to the larger quantities that now trigger the same penalties for powder cocaine. The move by Congress sparked unrest in the federal prison system. If Congress leaves it alone this time, the new rules will take effect on November 1.
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