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November 8, 2007

More of the crack facts and retroactivity arguments

The latest issue of Time has this article on the new crack guidelines, which includes this effective analysis of what's happening:

Drug dealers are bad guys, but even they should be treated fairly.  That's why advocates of sentencing reform are cheering a recent federal move to narrow the jaw-dropping disparity in sentences for trafficking in two versions of the same drug, cocaine. But it's way too early for them to be declaring victory... [W]hile the new guidelines have reduced the penalties above the mandatory minimums, those minimums are still firmly in place....

What's more, even the changes in the guidelines will have only a limited effect unless the sentencing commission makes them retroactive — an issue it is expected to discuss at a Nov. 13 meeting.  As of now, the new guidelines will affect only new offenders.  If the commission decides to go retro, the move could shorten the prison terms for some 19,500 inmates by an average of 27 months.

On the "retro" front, the Sentencing Commission has now made available here some of the comments it has received from "the judiciary, the executive branch, interested organizations, members of the defense bar, and individual citizens."   I especially liked Judge Richard Kopf's to-the-point pitch for retroactivity:

I urge the Commission to make the "crack" amendments to the Guidelines retroactive.  Even though that will mean more work for judges, every conception of justice of which I am aware justifies such an action.

On its main webpage, the USSC also notes that it "received more than 33,000 letters from individuals expressing their views on retroactivity."  Next week's USSC hearing on these issues ought to be a doozy.

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November 8, 2007 at 10:19 PM | Permalink


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