Crack Sentencing Changes Made Retroactive!

[Ed: Good to see the vote was unanimous -- someone tell Hillary Clinton. I heard the executive director of the Sentencing Commission speak at a conference last spring, and she was very passionate about wanting to see good things happen. It looks like the commissioners felt the same way. I've pasted here a few releases and announcements from various groups about this below. - Dave] News Release U.S. Sentencing Commission One Columbus Circle NE Washington, DC 20002-8002 For Immediate Release December 11, 2007 U.S. SENTENCING COMMISSION VOTES UNANIMOUSLY TO APPLY AMENDMENT RETROACTIVELY FOR CRACK COCAINE OFFENSES Effective Date for Retroactivity Set for March 3, 2008 WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 11, 2007) — The United States Sentencing Commission unanimously voted today to give retroactive effect to a recent amendment to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that reduces penalties for crack cocaine offenses. Retroactivity of the crack cocaine amendment will become effective on March 3, 2008. Not every crack cocaine offender will be eligible for a lower sentence under the decision. A Federal sentencing judge will make the final determination of whether an offender is eligible for a lower sentence and how much that sentence should be lowered. That determination will be made only after consideration of many factors, including the Commission’s direction to consider whether lowering the offender’s sentence would pose a danger to public safety. In addition, the overall impact is anticipated to occur incrementally over approximately 30 years, due to the limited nature of the guideline amendment and the fact that many crack cocaine offenders will still be required under Federal law to serve mandatory five- or ten-year sentences because of the amount of crack involved in their offense. On November 1, 2007, after a six-month congressional review period, the Commission’s amendment to the Federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses took effect. The amendment was intended as a step toward reducing some of the unwarranted disparity currently existing between Federal crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 specifically authorized the Commission to provide for retroactive effect of amendments that result in lower penalties for classes of offenses or offenders, as this amendment could. The Commission made its decision on retroactivity of the crack cocaine amendment after months of deliberation and years of examining cocaine sentencing issues. It solicited public comment on the issue of retroactivity and received over 33,000 letters or written comments, almost all of which were in favor of retroactivity. Last month, it held a full-day hearing on the issue of retroactivity and heard from key stakeholders in the federal criminal justice community. The Commission considered a number of factors during its deliberations, including the purpose for lowering crack cocaine sentences, the limit on any reduction allowed by the amendment, whether it would be difficult for the courts to apply the reduction, and whether making the amendment retroactive would raise public safety concerns or cause unwarranted sentencing disparity in the federal system. Ultimately, the Commission determined that the statutory purposes of sentencing are best served by retroactive application of the amendment. Mindful of public safety and judicial resource concerns, the Commission today issued direction to the courts on the limited nature of this and all other retroactive amendments and on the need to consider public safety in each case. The Commission delayed the effective date of its decision on retroactivity in order to give the courts sufficient time to prepare for and process these cases. The Commission’s actions today, as well as promulgation of the original amendment for crack cocaine offenses, are only a partial step in mitigating the unwarranted sentencing disparity that exists between Federal powder and crack cocaine defendants. The Commission has continued to call on Congress to address the issue of the 100-to-1 statutory ratio that drives Federal cocaine sentencing policy. Only Congress can provide a comprehensive solution to a fundamental unfairness in Federal sentencing policy. The Commission has consistently expressed its readiness and willingness to work with Congress and others in the criminal justice community to address this very important issue. The bipartisan United States Sentencing Commission, an independent agency in the judicial branch of the federal government, was organized in 1985 to develop national sentencing policy for the federal courts. The resulting sentencing guidelines help to ensure that similar offenders who commit similar offenses receive similar sentences. For Immediate Release Date: December 11, 2007 Sentencing Commission votes in favor of crack cocaine retroactivity WASHINGTON, D.C.: Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the nation's leading sentencing reform organization with 13,000 members -- many of whom are incarcerated people and their families -- praises the U.S. Sentencing Commission for its courage and leadership on improving crack cocaine sentencing policies for future defendants and current prisoners. Today in an historic vote, the Commission agreed to allow prisoners serving crack cocaine sentences to seek sentence reductions that went into effect on November 1. Retroactivity will affect 19,500 federal prisoners, almost 2,520 of whom could be eligible for early release in the first year. Federal courts will administer the application of the retroactive guideline, which is not automatic. Courts may refuse to grant sentence reductions to individuals if they believe they could pose a public safety risk. "The Sentencing Commission made the tough but fair decision to remedy injustice, showing courage and leadership in applying the guideline retroactively. Clearly, justice should not turn on the date an individual is sentenced,” said Julie Stewart, president and founder of FAMM. "Retroactivity of the crack guideline not only affects 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. Many FAMM members, including Lamont and Lawrence Garrison, will benefit from retroactivity. 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 could receive sentence reductions of between three and four years. The U.S. Sentencing Commission has repeatedly advised Congress since 1995 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 resulting disparity as the "single most important" factor in longer sentences for blacks compared to other racial groups. Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that judges can consider the unfairness of the 100-to-1 ratio between crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences and may impose a sentence below the crack guideline in cases where the guideline sentence is too severe. However, neither the new guideline nor its retroactivity changes the statutory mandatory minimums that retain the 100-to-1 quantity disparity between crack and powder cocaine. "To insure equal justice for all defendants, Congress must act to address the mandatory minimums that created the cocaine sentencing disparity in 1986," said Stewart. FAMM spearheaded the effort to make the crack cocaine guideline change apply to people already in prison, helping generate over 33,000 letters to the Sentencing Commission in support of retroactivity. FAMM members from across the country also attended the Commission's public hearing on retroactivity in Washington, D.C. on November 13 and the vote on December 11, bearing photographs of their incarcerated loved ones. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) advocates for fair and proportionate sentencing laws. For more information, visit or email [email protected]. UNITED STATES SENTENCING COMMISSION APPROVES CRACK REFORM FOR FEDERAL PRISONERS The day after the Supreme Court affirmed a judge's decision to sentence below the guideline range based on the unfairness of the crack cocaine sentencing disparity, the United States Sentencing Commission today voted unanimously to make retroactive its recent guideline amendment on crack cocaine offenses. The USSC's decision now makes an estimated 19,500 persons in prison eligible for a sentence reduction averaging more than two years. Releases are subject to judicial review and will be staggered over 30 years. The Sentencing Project applauds the USSC for responding at this heightened time of public awareness about excessive penalties and disparate treatment within the justice system. "The Commission's decision marks an important moment not only for the 19,500 people retroactivity will impact, but for the justice system as a whole," stated Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project. "Today's action, combined with the Court's decision yesterday, restores a measure of rationality to federal sentencing while also addressing the unconscionable racial disparities that the war on drugs has produced." The Sentencing Project estimates that once the sentencing change is fully implemented, there will be a reduction of up to $1 billion in prison costs. Because African Americans comprise more than 80% of those incarcerated for crack cocaine offenses, the sentencing reform will also help reduce racial disparity in federal prisons. The Commission sets the advisory guideline range that federal judges use when sentencing defendants. In May the Commission recommended statutory reforms and proposed to Congress an amendment to decrease the guideline offense level for crack cocaine offenses. The amendment went unchallenged by Congress and went into effect on November 1st. The Commission's action today makes that guideline change retroactive to persons sentenced prior to November 1st. The guideline changes do not affect the mandatory minimum penalties that apply to crack cocaine, which can only be addressed through Congressional action. "Justice demands that Congress take the next step and eliminate the harsh mandatory minimums for low-level crack cocaine offenses," said Mauer. The Commission's vote comes a day after the United States Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Kimbrough v. United States that a federal district judge's below-guideline sentencing decision based on the unfairness of the 100 to 1 quantity disparity between powder and crack cocaine was permissible. In June, Sen. Joseph Biden introduced the Drug Sentencing Reform and Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007, legislation which would equalize the penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses. Biden's bill, S. 1711, aims to shift federal law enforcement's focus from street-level dealers towards high-level traffickers.
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