Sentencing: Connecticut Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Eliminated Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparities 6/3/05

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Connecticut's Republican governor, Jodi Rell, vetoed legislation Thursday that would have eliminated the disparity in sentences involving crack versus powder cocaine. The bill would have equalized penalties by raising the threshold for crack offenses to that of powder offenses. Under current law, to earn the same mandatory minimum five-year sentence for selling a half-gram of crack, someone would have to sell 28 grams of powder cocaine.

Like similar laws at the federal level and in many states, the Connecticut law has been harshly criticized as having a disproportionate impact on minorities. It has also contributed to the state's chronic prison overcrowding problems. The new law had been supported by a number of Connecticut criminal justice and civil rights organizations, who called on Rell to sign it into law.

Rell refused, saying the bill "sends an inappropriate message that the enforcement of our drug laws, especially with respect to crack cocaine, is being eased." But she also said she would work to reduce racial disparities in sentencing. "I have been deeply moved by the concerns and arguments that have been raised," Rell said. "I have also listened to the many painful stories of racial disparities, and I intend to act to address them."

Rell said she has requested that the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparity in the Criminal Justice System make specific recommendations to do just that, and she has called on the Office of Policy and Management to make recommendations for possible legislative action.

In the meantime, Gov. Rell said she would sign a proposed alternative bill that would remove disparities by both increasing the amount of crack needed to trigger the mandatory minimum and decreasing the amount of powder cocaine needed to do so. Under that proposal, the threshold for both forms of the drug would be set at 14 grams. But Republicans in both the House and Senate already attempted to enact that plan as an amendment to the bill that passed. That effort was blocked by Democrats in the Democrat-controlled chambers.

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Issue #389 -- 6/3/05

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