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August 19, 2009

Yet another district judge formally adopts 1-to-1 crack/powder sentencing ratio

As detailed in this effective local article, a federal judge in Pennsylvania has now "said 'sound policy reasons' — including the new stance of the Justice Department — led him to reject long-established guidelines for sentencing crack-cocaine defendants."  Here are more basics from the article:

Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice B. Cohill Jr. characterized the guidelines as unfair.... Cohill rejected the crack-cocaine guidelines for two defendants, whom he sentenced in Erie Aug. 4. He issued two nearly identical written opinions on Thursday that detailed his reasoning.

The chief federal prosecutor in Erie, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Piccinini, told Cohill last week that the guidelines were meant to consider the intense high and craving that crack cocaine brings compared to powder cocaine. As Cohill said in his written decisions, the guidelines also assumed that violence accompanied the trafficking of crack.

Piccinini said his office would file no motions objecting to Cohill's decision in the crack cases.

The rulings referenced here came in US v. Owens and US v. Russell, and here is how the Russell decision (which is uploaded below) gets started:

Defendant Cleotis Eugene Russell, Jr. appeared before this Court for resentencing on August 4, 2009.  At Mr. Russell’s original sentencing hearing on November 28, 2007, I rejected Mr. Russell’s request to vary from the guideline range based on the imbalance in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit remanded this case for resentencing because the United States Supreme Court in Kimbrough v. United States, 128 S. Ct. 558 (2007) and Spears v. United States, 129 S.Ct. 840 (2009), effectively overruled United States v. Ricks, 494 F.3d 394 (3d Cir. 2007), a case I relied upon in rejecting Mr. Russell’s request for a variance.  At resentencing I applied a 1-to-1 crack-to-powder ratio, an approach to sentencing in crack cocaine cases which I intend to apply in all future crack cocaine sentencings. I write this Opinion to explain my reasons for this.

Download Russell crack opinion

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August 19, 2009 at 11:29 AM | Permalink


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There is one interesting thing I've seen on the link of violence with crack that simply may not have been apparent when crack first came on the drug market. The drugs were moving into new markets that lacked established criminal organization, thus the spike in violence as the market was thrashed out. Certainly now that the gangs are established there appears to be much less violence associated with the trade.

Which may in fact be another argument for legalization. When people can't use legal means to resolve their disputes, they are going to resort to illegal means.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Aug 19, 2009 12:01:02 PM

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