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Tag: crack cocaine

Federal Judges Beginning to Equalize Punishment for Crack Cocaine

This has long been one of the unfair disparities in sentencing. No question crack cocaine has plagued urban America and destroyed neighborhoods and lives. But should crack have ever been treated differently than powdered cocaine when it came to sentencing?

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
crack-cocaine-deaWASHINGTON — Federal judges are beginning to equalize punishment for crack and powder cocaine crimes, resulting in shorter prison terms for crack dealers and putting pressure on Congress to address a wide disparity in how the legal system handles cocaine-related offenses.

In two recent rulings and interviews, a federal judge in the District and one in Iowa said they had policy differences with Congress and a judicial commission that they said did not go far enough to change the guidelines for crack sentences in 2007.

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Miami Police Chief John Timoney Urges End to Fed Law Disparity Between Crack and Powdered Cocaine

Chief John F. Timoney

Chief John F. Timoney

BY JOHN F. TIMONEY
Miami Police Chief
For the Miami Herald
MIAMI — Most people in the criminal-justice system are aware of a problem with the federal laws governing sentences for cocaine offenses — penalties for crack-cocaine offenses are much stiffer than sentences for powder cocaine. This undermines trust in the criminal-justice system, and it has strong racial effects unhealthy to our society.

The federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 created a mandatory five-year prison term for offenses involving five grams of crack. But an offender must have 100 times as much powder cocaine to trigger the same five-year sentence.

If I grab a guy carrying five grams of crack, less than a fifth of an ounce, I figure this is a low-level drug dealer, or maybe someone with a lot for his own consumption. If I arrest a guy with 500 grams of powder cocaine, more than a pound, I figure this is a trafficker. Yet the federal law set the same penalty for both.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, a panel that Congress created in 1984 to write sentencing guidelines for federal judges to make sentences fairer and more uniform, for years urged Congress to amend cocaine laws to reduce that 100-to-1 disparity.

In 2007, the Commission took some limited action to decrease the sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses and made the changes retroactive. The Commission said the sentencing system for cocaine offenses had come under ”almost universal criticism” from judges, criminal-justice officials, academics and community
groups.

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New Crack Cocaine Sentencing Guidelines Bring New Struggles

crack cocaine

crack cocaine

Ever since the crack cocaine epidemic surfaced in the 1980s, authorities have wrestled with it in the courts. Here’s how the latest battle is playing out in federal court.

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — Michael D. Thompson, a former crack cocaine dealer, thought he deserved a break.
Sentenced in 2000 to 15 years and eight months in prison, Thompson asked a federal judge in the District to release him, arguing that he had received an unfair sentence and has turned his life around behind bars, earning a general equivalency diploma and completing a commercial driving course.
Federal prosecutors said that was a terrible idea. Citing Thompson’s criminal past and prison disciplinary record, which includes threatening a prison official with a knife, prosecutors argued in court papers that the 37-year-old poses a danger to the community and should complete his sentence.
Thompson’s case is one of thousands around the country in which crack offenders and their defense attorneys are sparring with federal prosecutors over how to interpret new sentencing guidelines for crack possession or sale. The guidelines were issued to right old wrongs. But they have led to time-consuming legal challenges dealing with the often long-forgotten consequences of the bloody crack wars in the late 1980s and 1990s.

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