3,000 Crack Cocaine Sentences Reduced To Date

The U.S. Sentencing Commission says 3,000 crack cocaine sentences have been reduced since the guideline amendment went into effect in March.

There are 19,500 inmates serving time for crack cocaine.

In the 40 or so motions I've seen filed in Colorado (cases in which I had one of many co-defendants) the Government seems to file an objection to every request. It either says the guideline doesn't apply or the court should exercise its discretion and deny the relief.

I've mentioned before that the reductions are small, and only apply to a limited group of defendants. I only have one client out of dozens of crack defendants I've represented who appears to be eligible for relief. Sure enough, the Government is opposing the request.

The Sentencing Commission's report is great news for the 3,000 who have obtained relief so far, but it's a drop in the bucket as to what's needed. Congress needs to change the mandatory minumum sentencing laws. It needs to make the penalties for crack cocaine and powder the same without raising the levels for powder. [More....]

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have signed on as co-sponsors to S. 1711, Joe Biden's equalization bill. That's not a good bill. Aside for providing massive amounts to fund the war on drugs, it expressly states the penalty revisions will not be retroactive. In other words, they won't apply to the 19,500 serving these draconian and unfair sentences. Nonetheless, the ACLU also is urging its passage.

Bottom line: The guideline reductions are a welcome first baby step but that's all they are and much more is needed.

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    Thank you Jeralyn (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jay Elias on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 12:58:06 PM EST
    As someone who mostly posts at other blogs but comes here to argue with Armando sometimes, I just wanted to mention how much I respect and am gladdened that you have kept the huge issues of the drug war and our out-of-control justice system front-and-center despite the election.

    You have my deepest thanks.

    Here's a crazy idea... (none / 0) (#3)
    by TripMaster Monkey on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 01:01:14 PM EST
    There are now 1.9 million arrests of non-violent drug "offenders" annually in the United States, a larger number than the entire population of New Mexico. Forty-three percent of these are marijuana arrests and eighty-eight percent of marijuana arrests are for simple possession.

    Simply decriminalize cannabis, and a big chunk of this problem goes away.

    But of course, the powers that be don't want this problem to go away.  They prefer the status quo, with 1 out of 99 Americans in prison.  Much easier to control, that way...

    I find the drug laws in this country (none / 0) (#6)
    by madamab on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 01:23:45 PM EST
    incredibly racist in their execution.

    Whether they were conceived that way is another story, but the fact is, social justice demands that we look at these laws with a more enlightened eye.

    Baby steps, but important ones.


    Not to quibble, (none / 0) (#17)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 04:23:59 PM EST
    but I think MJ arrests hardly ever = prison. At least according to the DOJ.

    I don't know if that is true or not (none / 0) (#18)
    by CST on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 04:37:37 PM EST
    But it still ends up on your record, making it hard to find employment, vote, etc...

    Well, this is what they say: (none / 0) (#19)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 05:06:20 PM EST
    In 1997, the year for which the most recent data are available, just 1.6 percent of the state inmate population were held for offenses involving only marijuana, and less than one percent of all state prisoners (0.7 percent) were incarcerated with marijuana possession as the only charge, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

    An even smaller fraction of state prisoners in 1997 who were convicted just for marijuana possession were first time offenders (0.3 percent).

    The numbers on the federal level tell a similar story. Out of all drug defendants sentenced in federal court for marijuana crimes in 2001, the overwhelming majority were convicted for trafficking, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

    Only 2.3 percent--186 people--received sentences for simple possession, and of the 174 for whom sentencing information is known, just 63 actually served time behind bars.

    And MJ arrests make it hard to vote? Only if you're arrested the day of the election and are unable to get to the polls because of it.

    Drug and Aclohol crimes (none / 0) (#4)
    by AnninCA on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 01:05:57 PM EST
    Need to be out of the system if we're going to impose long-term sentences on personal attack crimes.

    They are just not the population anymore

    Moreover, because of over-crowding issues, AA can't even predictably get into prison now.

    There is virtually no help being offered for addiction.

    agree (none / 0) (#5)
    by DandyTIger on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 01:11:29 PM EST
    that this is OK as a first baby step, and more is needed. We really need to change that law at least to make all forms of this one drug the same in the eyes of the law. It sure seems like a case of a race motivated imbalance in the justice system.

    And of course, it's obvious that drugs in and of themselves for personal use should not be illegal. I never understood prohibition in any of it's forms. I certainly understand age appropriateness, and I understand wanting to help people that have a problem. And I can understand some liability for cigarette, alcohol and other drug companies for their products if they're really nasty, toxic, or addictive. And with that last bit, I can understand that there will always be a black market for some items. But I don't understand laws against use.

    Good for you, Jeralyn. (none / 0) (#7)
    by mattt on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 01:51:59 PM EST
    One of the areas where I've been disappointed with Obama is his apparent lack of interest, as a p;rogressive law professor with an urban background, in the injustice f sentencing disparities and the War on Some Drugs in general.  My guess is that he feels political reality prohibits him from identifying too closely with what can be cariciatured as a "black issue."  I hope (admttedly without much basis) that if elected, he'd show some leadership on this issue.

    Obama's team is top heavy with Whites (none / 0) (#10)
    by thereyougo on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 02:03:52 PM EST
    DU has a vid clip of his campaign HQ,so, if that means anything it pushes black issues to the back burner.

    This subject distresses me, as a Calif. resident with an increasing tax bill for warehousing people.
    It costs upward to 60,000$ per year to keep one of these offenders off the streets.

    Can't we find a more cost effective means to correct the behavior?


    I'm CA too (none / 0) (#13)
    by mattt on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 02:16:10 PM EST
    and share your frustration.  The answer, I think,  is to decrimininalize possession of small amounts of drugs, and transfer some of the money currently spent on warehousing users and addicts toward treatment, and to job programs that would make it more worthwhile for people to stay sober and productive.

    But about Obama's organization....if I pointed out that Hillary's campaign is topheavy with males, would it follow that issues of interest to women are forced to the back burner?


    Except (none / 0) (#11)
    by CST on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 02:05:06 PM EST
    Crack sentances are much harsher than cocaine sentances and there is no basis for this.  Since Cocaine is more expensive than crack that means if you can afford the good stuff you get off but if you are broke and on drugs you get screwed.  There needs to be consistency in sentancing.

    Actually, there is a logic... (none / 0) (#14)
    by jccamp on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 02:32:37 PM EST
    to the disparity of crack vs powder coke sentences. The theory is that crack, because of the common method of ingestion - smoking, creates a quicker and harder-to-break dependency than powder. As the smoke is taken into the lungs, the drug hits about a bazillion capillaries all at the same time, increasing the effect of the agent. This is compared to powdered coke, commonly snorted, which has to wend through the epidermis before reaching blood vessels. Less of a hit, less compelling.
    So, more addictive? Longer sentence, just like heroin sentencing used to be when it was popular. (actually, addictive is probably not appropriate when describing cocaine. Dependent is better.)
    Is this crack-enhanced-dependency really true? Beats me. Maybe a doctor could say. Crackheads do seem as a group to have more of a down-and-out dependency, but that's highly subjective.

    Why not just legalize all of it, give it away free at the neighborhood Federal Drug Store, and use all that War on Drugs cash for something else? Like drug treatment plans. Plus we'd cut the prison population substantially.
    Decriminalize everything but, say, delivery to a minor.

    Too bad I don't see any politician trying this one on for size.


    Okay (none / 0) (#15)
    by CST on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 02:36:51 PM EST
    There is also logic that would point in the other direction.

    Namely, Cocaine is a purer form of Crack and you actually make more crack out of a small amount of cocaine.  So a lot of those cocainee busts are really just higher ups on the crack tree.

    Me, I am also in favor of decriminilization.  That is a really hard word to spell and I have no idea if I just butchered it.


    Your point is well taken (none / 0) (#16)
    by jccamp on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 03:09:25 PM EST
    and it's why crack was so popular from the hoodlum's POV. Higher profit margin.

    I'm not vouching for the other rationale, but that was part of the legislative intent when guidelines were changed. If you think about it, the response is typical. Raise the penalties on the dope-du-jour.


    Jeralyn (none / 0) (#12)
    by CST on Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 02:07:19 PM EST
    How do you feel about the police officers who got off today in NY despite having shot an unarmed man 50 times on his wedding day?  I usually agree with you on crime related issues and I would like to see a post/ discussion about this.