As experienced New York and Federal criminal defense lawyers, we keep track of changes and proposed changes in the law that may effect our clients. When appropriate, and as part of the effort of our effort, though this blog to educate the public, our clients and our friends, we post proposed changes in the law here, in our blog.
Congress is taking notice to the injustice associated with the previously discussed 100:1 ratio crack cocaine vs powder cocaine sentencing disparity. At least 6 Bills in 2007 and 1 in 2008 were proposed by both Democrats and Republicans that would in some way reduce or eliminate the 100:1 cocaine/cocaine base ratio. These proposed Bills include:
H.R. 5035, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2008: Eliminates mandatory minimums for cocaine offenses. On January 17, Rep. Robert “Bobby” C. Scott (D-Va.), who is Chairman of the House Committed on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security and also serves on the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, introduced H.R. 5035, The Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2008. The bill would, among other things, eliminate the distinction between powder cocaine and cocaine base (crack) and eliminate all mandatory cocaine sentences. This bill is the first bill introduced in the House in the 110th Congress that would eliminate mandatory minimums for crack and powder cocaine sentences.
S. 1711, the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007: Sponsored by Vice-President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-Del.), S. 1711 would, inter alia, eliminate sentencing differences between crack and powder cocaine in favor of a single mandatory minimum at the current powder cocaine levels and eliminate the five-year mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine. This bill is supported by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton . The direction of our incoming Administration is clear. “Obama and Biden believe the disparity between sentencing crack and powder-based cocaine is wrong and should be completely eliminated.” (See http://origin.barackobama.com/issues/civil_rights/#sentencing-disparities)
H.R. 4545, the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007: Introduced on December 13 by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), H.R. 4545 is the House companion to the above-discussed S. 1711. The bill would, among other things, eliminate sentencing differences between crack and powder cocaine in favor of a single mandatory minimum at the current powder cocaine levels and eliminate the five-year mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine. The bill has 43 cosponsors:
S. 1685, the Fairness in Drug Sentencing Act of 2007: Introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), S. 1685 would reduce the difference between crack and powder sentencing by increasing the amount of crack cocaine needed to trigger the five-year mandatory minimum sentences from five to 25 grams and the 10-year mandatory minimum from 50 to 250 grams. It would also eliminate the five-year mandatory minimum for simple possession. The bill would not eliminate the cocaine sentencing disparity but reduce it from 100:1 to 20:1. The bill also directs the Sentencing Commission to review the sentencing guidelines and amend them if appropriate to account for specified aggravating and mitigating characteristics. There are three cosponsors.
S. 1383, the Drug Sentencing Reform Act of 2007: Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), S. 1383 would adjust the disparity between crack and powder sentencing by raising the amounts of crack cocaine that trigger the five- and 10-year mandatory minimum sentences (from five to 20 grams and from 50 to 200 grams respectively) while also lowering the triggering quantities for powder cocaine (from 500 grams to 400 grams for the five-year mandatory minimum sentence and from five kilograms to four kilograms for the ten-year mandatory minimum). It would also lower the simple possession mandatory minimums. S. 1383 directs the Sentencing Commission to amend the guidelines by adding enhancements for a variety of aggravating factors. The bill would cap sentences at level 32 (roughly 10 years) for defendants who played a minimal role in the offense and creates a pilot program to test releasing certain nonviolent elderly prisoners. There are three cosponsors.
H.R. 79, the Powder-Crack Cocaine Penalty Equalization Act of 2007:
Introduced by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), H.R. 79 would equalize the crack and powder cocaine sentences at by lowering the triggering quantities to those for crack cocaine.
H.R. 460, the Crack Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act of 2007:
Introduced by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), H.R. 460 would also equalize the crack and powder penalties, but at the powder level. The bill has 20 cosponsors and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee’s crime subcommittee.
The above discussed proposed legislation shows us that Congress is taking notice of the baseless 100:1 powder cocaine vs. crack cocaine discrepancy and is attempting to correct this injustice. All the evidence and studies show that the fears relied upon when the crack cocaine mandatory minimums were implemented never materialized, that the drugs are chemically identical and that there is no justification for the discrepancy; a discrepancy that has devastated a generation of young black males.