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June 28, 2009

Noting the latest state of the crack-powder sentencing debate

The Washington Post has this new article reviewing the latest developments in the never-ending debate over federal crack and powder sentencing terms.  The piece is headlined "Two Judges Target Cocaine Penalties: Disparity for Crack Crimes Criticized," and here is how it starts:

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.  From now on, the judges wrote, they will calculate sentences for crack offenders by using the more-lenient sentencing guidelines for powder cocaine crimes.

Recent Supreme Court rulings and supportive statements from top Justice Department officials paved the way for the judges' decisions.  Nonetheless, such unilateral action from the bench is unusual.  Legal scholars said the decisions highlight the judiciary's irritation at the slow pace of sentencing reform as Congress considers the first major revision of crack statutes in decades.

Regular readers with a good memory will know that the two rulings discussed in this article are Judge Mark Bennett's opinion in Gully (discussed here) and Judge Paul Friedman's opinion in Lewis (discussed here).

June 28, 2009 at 11:14 PM | Permalink


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