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December 12, 2007

Major media coverage of crack retroactivity decision

As he does so well, Howard Bashman has collected here some of the major media coverage of the US Sentencing Commission's decision to make its new crack guidelines retroactive.  The Washington Post has this front page article, which includes a number of notable quotes:

"Making the revised guidelines for crack cocaine retroactive will make thousands of dangerous prisoners, many of them violent gang members, eligible for immediate release," Craig S. Morford, acting deputy attorney general, said in a statement released by the Justice Department. "These offenders are among the most serious and violent offenders in the federal system."...

"The profound reason why we should get this retroactive application is it is the right thing to do," Vice Chair Ruben Castillo said minutes before the vote.  "We should constantly strive to make sure that race plays no role in the day-to-day operation of the criminal justice system."

Commissioner Beryl A. Howell called the vote "one of the most important decisions the commission has made" during her three years of service. She noted that the panel contributed to the disparity by establishing guidelines that were even more severe than what Congress allowed for in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986....

But the change is not a "get out of jail free" card, said commissioner Michael E. Horowitz. "Not everybody is automatically entitled to this reduction," he said, explaining that federal judges, many of whom supported making the guidelines retroactive, will decide cases individually on merit....

Karen Garrison, a D.C. mother whose twin sons, both Howard University graduates whose convictions were based on witness testimony, said: "This is the first time I have really been excited about anything." Lamont Garrison's 19-year sentence could be reduced by four years, and Lawrence's sentence could be reduced by three.  Secoya Jenkins, 16, of Orange, N.J., smiled broadly and said, "I'm excited because my mom is coming home." Nerika Jenkins, 35, also convicted because of witness testimony, is serving a 19-year sentence.

"It is a remarkable day," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "While this is only the federal system and it's a small change, it's going to resonate around the world."

December 12, 2007 at 09:06 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Why is nobody talking about the millions of dollars in taxpayer money that will be saved by releasing some prisoners early? Keeping one person in federal prison for a year costs $45,000 (if I recall correctly... regardless it's expensive). Why does "law and order" always trump "fiscal responsibility"? Why is the release of a prisoner never a cause for taxpayer celebration? We spend tens of billions of dollars keeping people locked up. The money saved by letting some of them out a little early certainly outweighs the "risk" they supposedly pose to society (we're talking about nonviolent drug offenders, not terrorists or serial killers). Drug users pose no more risk to society than beer drinkers... in fact, I'd rather have a person high on methamphetamine driving next to me than a person drunk on tequila.

But as always, the debate is about "protecting the children" so I'll be blunt. I'd rather have lower taxes and a few dead children than higher taxes and a few non-dead children (as always, that's the debate so I don't shy away from it). How much is the life of an average child worth? Certainly less than it costs to keep someone incarcerated for life (assume at least 40 years). We have an irrational market failure when it comes to "protecting society" versus spending money to incarcerate.

Posted by: bruce | Dec 12, 2007 11:20:11 AM

The decision to make the crack guideline amendments retroactive is most certainly not a "get out of jail free" card. Defendants must file motions and new sentencing hearings held. And many defendants will simply have their sentences reduced to the 5-, 10-, 15- or 20-year mandatory minimum sentences, which is unlikely to result in "immediate" release under any rational understanding of the word. Also, many of these defendants likely argued at their original sentencings that the mandatory-minimum sentence was more than sufficient, and district judges may have wanted to give that sentence, rather than the higher guideline sentence. Unfortunately, at that time, the district courts felt they were constrained (under penalty of reversal by the courts of appeal) to give the higher sentence. It's an opportunity for some people to get some years of their lives back and I think the Commission was right to do so.

Posted by: defense attorney | Dec 12, 2007 5:04:53 PM

While I'm a civil litigator and not too familiar with crim pro, I have been following up on recent developments re: retroactivity as it may (hopefully) assist my wife's two uncles. 18 years ago, they were sentenced to 505 YEARS (not months) in prison by a federal district judge for 25 counts of money laundering, with a prison term of 20 years for each count, to run consecutively. Case is US v. Andonian. An additional 5 year enhancement was given for a reason that I cannot recall right now. Be that is it may, what I'm interested to know is the Commission's amendment regarding "GROUPING" and whether or not there is any talk about that amendment being applied retroactively. If so, I would imagine that their sentence would be reduced to 20 years; and since they've served 18 years, they should be out soon. Any thoughts? Am I completely out of range in my analysis?

Posted by: Civil Attorney | Dec 13, 2007 3:48:18 PM

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