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March 18, 2010

Full Senate passes bill to reduce (but not eliminate) crack/powder disparity

As detailed in this AFP report, the full "US Senate Wednesday unanimously approved legislation to reduce 20-year-old sentencing disparities for offenders caught with crack cocaine versus the drug in its powder form."  Here are more of the basics:

The bill, which must still pass the House of Representatives before President Barack Obama can sign it into law, cuts the 100:1 ratio in the amount of powder cocaine versus crack cocaine that trigger the same sentence.

The legislation as introduced would have cut the ratio to 1:1, but dealmaking to ensure its passage resulted in a compromise ratio of 18:1.

This statement from FAMM President Julie Stewart provides more of the (compromise) story and explains why even those eager to see more done on this front are still likely to favor final passage of this (partial) sentencing reform:

After 24 years on the books, 15 years of trying, 7 Congresses, 10 hearings, three Sentencing Commission reports, and 75,000 defendants sentenced...today, the U.S. Senate voted -- unanimously -- to make crack cocaine penalties fairer....

If the bill that left the Senate on its way to the House today becomes law, it will take 28 grams of crack cocaine to trigger the five-year sentence and 280 grams to hit the 10-year penalty.  And people sentenced for simple possession of crack cocaine will no longer be subject to a five-year mandatory minimum.

This is a big improvement over current crack sentencing penalties. It could lower sentences for almost 3,000 people each year.  However, the bill is not retroactive and would not help anyone who is already in prison serving a crack cocaine sentence.  So, after working on this issue for almost as long as FAMM has been in existence, I'm not thrilled that this is all we got....

[G]iven the politics of the day (and the past 15 years) the Senate bill is likely to be the best we can get.  To their credit, there were a number of Democrats and Republicans who supported an even better version of this bill, but not enough.  It was clear that nothing short of this compromise would actually make it out of the Senate. Without a Senate bill, crack sentencing reform would be dead once again.

The bill now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives where it will meet some obstacles.  But because the Senate unanimously approved the bill, it increases its chances that it might make it out of the House.  We'll be working closely with House members to see if we can improve the bill....

Since 1995, when Congress killed the reform of the crack sentencing guidelines, nearly 75,000 people have received federal crack cocaine sentences.  We will not allow another 75,000 to be sentenced at the current unjustifiable levels.

To prevent that, however, we will accept some compromises that are hard to swallow.  I don't look forward to that, but I won't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  Too many people have already suffered, which is why we will support this imperfect bill.

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March 18, 2010 at 12:30 AM | Permalink


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To their credit, there were a number of Democrats and Republicans who supported an even better version of this bill, but not enough. It was clear that nothing short of this compromise would actually make it out of the Senate. Without a Senate bill, crack sentencing reform would be dead once again.

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Posted by: Julieandrews | Mar 18, 2010 2:47:08 AM

Anybody know: Is it possible this may be improved in the House, or is this what we get?

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Mar 18, 2010 6:41:27 AM

i am a student and the fiance of a man who is being charged with federal charges.

Posted by: ida gamez | Mar 24, 2010 1:41:40 PM

my fiance is being charged with federal charges involving crack cocain he might gone for 15 yrs and we have 2 little girls. i wish he wouldn't get such a harsh sentence. being in prison for that long just makes a persons life more horrible.i wish he could come home soon and have a chance to get his life on the right track and stay away from the wrong people.passing this bill will make a big difference.

Posted by: ida gamez | Mar 24, 2010 1:46:04 PM

To Julieandrews question: I think the House is able to improve it. But then I think it has to go back to Senate to get their vote again on the revisions from the House.

Posted by: CortJanece | Mar 24, 2010 5:00:43 PM

It's about time... Maybe one day we'll actually use reason and of yes the Constitution in federal criminal cases. Remember though many of the federal defendants charges are subject to the career criminal provisions of the "Advisory" Guidelines- (Can anybody say "still mandatory??") and will have little effect on many sentences.

Posted by: Slade | Mar 24, 2010 9:10:51 PM

Hello, I'm a Sister of a young man sentenced under the Crack Laws, My little brother went to prison in October of 1998 and is schedule to be released in October of 2020 :( ,he has been away for so long I'm starting to wonder if our Mother will even be alive,when and if he is released. HOW UNFAIR is this mess my Neices and Nephews have been away from their Father for so Long they barely even know him. I think this is not right, my brother has been in prison longer than a person that has murdered someone. What type of Justice is this our society is so busy trying to hurt each other instead of helping one another keeping someone locked up for that long is treatig them like an animal what kind of rehabilitation is this? And Like I said I have seen prisoner's come home faster off of Murder Charges. I wish something coul be done to improve our laws and this crucial environment we are living in.

Posted by: Deon Glore | Apr 6, 2010 3:58:43 PM

Hi im a girlfriend of a guy who is sentence under the crack law. He got 18 years.wow u would think he killed somebody. Its really ashame that you get more time cought with drugs then you do wen you kill somebody.Please help us!! Wat do u think about the system?

Posted by: christal | Apr 18, 2010 5:47:45 PM

yes this system is so unfair thats like in texas you get more time for a little drug than for killing someone and plus if you are black they really stick it to you.

Posted by: evetta | Apr 21, 2010 1:38:34 PM

Hello, I have three of my cousins serving a harsh sentenced for crack cocaine. We as the family feel this is crazy!! all three are serving 14 years to life in prison. This is crazy and unfair and this is why we the family are going to be the voice for them. we do know that they should be punish for their crime but not lock them up forever and threw away the key.
All of them have moms, dads, children,family who are
suffering because they are gone for so long some of us my be dead including their parents. is this justice no way they should of look at the effect of this. for this reason we are their voice..and we are here to help in any way to push the bill..for anyone who is reading this, and I wish I would of bumped into this earlier. We are holding a March for unfair sentencing April 24,2010 at 12:30 p.m. in front of Clemente High school. on Division and Western we will march down to division & California. We need to show that we care and want the sentence to be lowered on the crack cocaine and retroactive so please come join us rain or shine following will be the media attending, radio stations. alderman from the areas, priest.families, kids etc.. hope to see you all there if you need any more information you me contact me at [email protected] bring you sign and write you feelings...

Posted by: Melinda Vera | Apr 24, 2010 1:46:53 AM

My question is, and I am sure the answer lies somewhere amongst all this information, so forgive me for being redundant, however, would this bill be retroactive? Would it apply to those already sentenced and serving out that sentence, federally? Or would it only apply to those convicted and sentenced after the bill goes into effect, if it does?

I am a student majoring in Criminal Justice.

Posted by: Jane D | May 6, 2010 12:27:37 AM

my father has been in jail for this same law since i was 1 and now i am 17 years of age i really hope this law passes so my daddy can come home i really want my daddy home

Posted by: BREANNA | May 20, 2010 9:02:11 AM

My family was broke apart by these crazy sentencing my fiance got 20 years for having drugs @ the time my daughter was 4 years and i was 4 months pregnant with our son which he found out 2 days before that he was having his first son before he left im really not understanding whats going on i prayed and prayed that this law would pass to bring him home sooner, it has pass but i see that they are saying they did not pass it to be retroactive , so does that mean that the people that has already been sentenced will not get any help i really need some understanding of this law because 20 years is a hell of a long time my children will be adults 27,21 thats so sad this makes me cry knowing this and makes me very sad that other mothers are out there feeling the same way i feel this hurts and i would never wish this hurt on anyone i hope and pray that something comes of this law so that every child, mother,girlfriend or boyfriend, father, grandfather comes home and be with their family ...........................

Posted by: Tiffany | Jun 4, 2010 12:19:03 AM

I have a friend that her son is in jail under the old crack law. He has been in a federal institution for 19 years now. He was sentenced "life" which I know is "too" harsh. It was his first offence. He did also recieved a charge for fire arms. You would have thought that he had Killed someone famous or killed some kids. He is a great guy who did break the law and has been incarcerated/rehabilated for 19 years. He is a great role model, a dad, a son and great friend. Please someone help everyone that has been "alienated" due to someone personal not legal judgement. Thank you!!

Posted by: L A | Jul 30, 2010 11:00:27 PM

It is quite ironic that there are some who are made to suffer due to how the old law operates but as cliched as it may sound, law is harsh but is still the law. If some compromise however may be had for the passage then it would be for the better.

Pomona Attorney

Posted by: PA | Nov 1, 2010 11:17:49 AM

I am the fiancee of a man who has been unfairly sentenced in the state of Ky. Clinton L. Brewer has served 14 years for a robbery and drug charges that his is guilty of, but has life for a murder that he did not commit. The courts acknowledged this but still gave him life. I have been petitioning the Governor of Ky for Early release. Here is a video of his sentencing. Please help me with what it is that I need to do next. Thank you.


Posted by: Carlena Buckner | Mar 17, 2014 9:48:43 AM

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