Crack Cocaine Guideline Reductions and Mandatory Minimums

Adam Liptak in the New York Times has a new column on the recent sentencing guideline reductions for crack cocaine. He posits that as a result of the reductions, Congress may be less likely to reduce mandatory minimum penalties for crack cocaine since Judges now have more discretion in sentencing and Congress won't want to give judges unfettered discretion.

There are several bills kicking around Congress meant to harmonize cocaine sentencing laws. But, perhaps perversely, the Supreme Court’s decisions last Monday may make Congressional action less likely. Letting judges have too much discretion does not sit well with some legislators, and that discretion can be controlled through mandatory minimums.

His source for that theory is former (very conservative) Judge and victims' rights advocate Paul Cassell. I've never agreed with Cassell about anything, particularly his attempts to repeal Miranda rights, push the death penalty and make light of false confessions and wrongful convictions, but I sure hope he's wrong on this one.

Liptak describes the penalties for powder as if they are way too lenient,

Fifty grams of crack equals a guaranteed 10 years. It takes five kilograms of powder to mandate the same sentence. Five kilos is a lot of cocaine.

I think that's a backwards way of looking at it. The better view is that ten years is a long jail sentence -- for any non-violent drug offense, regardless of the quantity.

I'm wondering if Liptak's use of the phrase "a lot of cocaine" is the result of someone whispering in his ear that the only way the crack penalties go down is if the powder penalties go up. That would be a terrible injustice.

The pending reform bills are here. Two call for equalization. The bills could be put on the agenda early next year. It's time to start contacting your Senators and Congresspersons and telling them to equalize the crack and powder cocaine penalties at the current powder levels. Two wrongs don't make a right.

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