Mandatory Minimum Rally In Advance of Hearing Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning, the ACLU will hold a rally in Washington on the unfairness of mandatory minimum sentences, and specifically, the need to repair the 100:1 crack to powder cocaine sentencing disparity.(Received by e-mail, no link yet.)

Speakers at the rally include:

  • Dorothy Gaines, who was charged with conspiracy to deliver crack cocaine due to her then-boyfriend’s alleged participation in a large-scale drug operation as a driver. Ms. Gaines served 6 years of a 19½ year sentence before being granted clemency by President Clinton in 2000.
  • Karen Garrison, whose sons are currently serving 15+ years in federal prison for non-violent crack cocaine offenses.
  • Kemba Smith, who was convicted in 1994 and sentenced to 24.5 years on charges of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and related charges after a failed relationship, despite her lack of involvement in any drug dealing operation.

The ACLU's written testimony on the need to reform these draconian, unfair penalties is here.

Several bills to reduce the injustice are pending in Congress. I outlined them here. A hearing is scheduled on them tomorrow before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. [More...]

The ACLU is urging passage of Joe Biden's bill:

In 2008, ACLU urges Congress to enact S.1711 and H.R. 4545, the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007, in order to end the 20-year travesty of justice. As part of this effort, the ACLU has joined with various civil rights organizations for a month-long series of events, culminating in a lobby day scheduled for February 26 aimed at drawing attention to this important issue.

As of Feb. 14, there are four co-sponsors of Biden's bill: Sen. Hillary Clinton [D-NY], Sen. Russell Feingold [D-WI], Sen. John Kerry [D-MA]
Sen. Carl Levin [D-MI]

I see that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has introduced Biden's bill in the House as H.R. 4545. Since she was a co-sponsor of Rangel's bill, H.R. 460, see below on why I prefer it, I suppose Rangel's bill doesn't have a chance.

Biden's bill, as is typical for him, includes a host of other provisions to increase funding for the war on drugs and prosecutors and agents. It provides $36 million for prosecution, 0 for defense and $15 million for prevention and treatment. Too lopsided, in my view.

Also, it does not provide for retroactivity, so it won't help those already serving huge sentences.

Biden's bill also directs the Sentencing Commission to raise the guidelines for a host of other factors, including (along with violence factors) if the offender has a prior drug conviction or imports the drug into the U.S.

The best bill is on the House side, Charlie Rangel's bill, H.R. 460 (with 19 co-sponsors.) It reduces the crack penalties to the current level for powder -- period.

If the ACLU is backing Biden's bill, I suppose it's the one with the greatest chance of passing. So go on over to their legislative action page and get on board.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Goody goody - we'll see Obama's leadership shine (none / 0) (#1)
    by Prabhata on Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 11:26:43 AM EST
    I won't hold my breath

    that is true (none / 0) (#5)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 11:35:05 AM EST
    He said he supported retroactivity of the recent reductions in guidelines, while she said she has problems with it in principle. I criticized her for that.

    This is a much bigger deal though, the guideline reductions were minimal and didn't apply to lots of defendants. I only have one who may get a retroactive reduction...16 months off a 15 year sentence, no violence or guns or prior drug convictions.


    This is a much bigger deal though (none / 0) (#13)
    by A DC Wonk on Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 03:48:21 PM EST
    Yes, it is a bigger deal now.

    But we still have the problem that if, say, mandatory minimums for crack were reduced to get closer to, or to equal, powder -- HRC is still against retroactive application in principle.


    Let's keep this on topic of the need to change the (none / 0) (#10)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 11:49:25 AM EST
    law and keep the candidates out of it.

    Why isn't Obama co-sponsoring this bill too?? N/T (none / 0) (#4)
    by athyrio on Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 11:31:38 AM EST

    I suspect he will (none / 0) (#6)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 11:35:47 AM EST
    Probably too busy campaigning.

    Sessions' Bill is Worse (none / 0) (#9)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 11:47:43 AM EST
    A Republican introduced bill, S. 1383: Drug Sentencing Reform Act of 2007 by Jeff Sessions of AL (previously an ultra-conservative U.S. Attorney) and which Democratic Colorado Senator Ken Salazar has signed on to co-sponsor, is even worse.It provides a reduction from 100:1 to 20:1 and raises the powder penalties by lowering the threshold for the ten year mandatory minimum from 5 kilos of powder to 4.

    This bill may get more popular support in Congress. We'll see.

    what's weird with this is.... (none / 0) (#14)
    by A DC Wonk on Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 03:50:46 PM EST
    has anyone on the planet suggested that the powder penalties are too low?

    It seems to me that the proposals which raise powder are simply trying to reduce the crack/powder disparity with no logic at all.  Or, perhaps, a fig leaf, so they can't be accused of being "soft on crime."


    I call those bills (none / 0) (#17)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 05:23:50 PM EST
    the "two wrongs don't make a right" bills.

    funny thing about that (none / 0) (#15)
    by A DC Wonk on Mon Feb 25, 2008 at 03:52:33 PM EST
    Conservatives are fond of saying  (well, they used to, before the current administration) that government programs need to be examined to see if they are cost effective.

    Hello?  Why is the so-called "war on drugs" exempt from that analysis?  The countless billions spent on incarcerting crack offenders alone . . . .