Senate Committee to Hold Crack-Powder Cocaine Hearing Wednesday
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the disparity of the crack/powder cocaine sentencing laws. You will be able to watch it live, online. Sentencing Law and Policy has more here.
The witnesses include Miami Police Chief John Timoney, who will be arguing the stiffer penalties for crack are unjust.
In the "personal story" segment, Cedric Parker will be testifying for FAMM about his sister and the impact of unjust federal crack cocaine sentences on their family.
The Sentencing Project's Marc Mauer has provided written testimony to the committee.
Former drug czar Asa Hutchinson will also testify. Hutchinson was Administrator of the DEA under former President George W. Bush. He too believes the disparity is unfair. He and J.C. Watts wrote this op-ed in the Washington Times.
U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton will testify. Here's his testimony (pdf)from 2007 urging that the two level decrease Congress implemented be made retroactive.
Another witness: U.S. Sentencing Commission Acting Chair Richard Hinojosa. He too believes the disparity is unfair. Here is his testimony (pdf) in 2008 before a House Judiciary Committee subcommittee urging that the disparity be 20:1 instead of 100:1.
The remaining witness is Assistant AG Lanny Breuer. Since Obama has called for an end to the disparity, I assume the DOJ witness he's sending will as well.
Once Congress decides to end the disparity, there are still lots of decisions to make. Will they end it entirely, or make it 20:1 or some other random number?
What about the 20,000 already doing doing time for crack under the unfair 100:1 ratio?
The leading bill, and one that progressive groups are pushing, is H.R. 265, introduced by Sheila Jackson Lee. It's just a re-introduction of last year's Joe Biden crime bill that I objected to here and here. It specifically says the reductions are not retroactive.
The amendments made by this Act shall apply to any offense committed on or after 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act. There shall be no retroactive application of any portion of this Act.
It provides for a host of "aggravating factors" to increase sentencing guidelines in drug cases. And the bill is loaded with pork for more DEA agents and prosecutors. It's totally a Biden-type bill.
SEC. 10. AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS AND REQUIRED REPORT.
(a) Authorization of Appropriations for Department of Justice- There is authorized to be appropriated to the Department of Justice not more than $36,000,000 for each of the fiscal years 2009 and 2010 for the prosecution of high-level drug offenses, of which--
(1) $15,000,000 is for salaries and expenses of the Drug Enforcement Administration;
(2) $15,000,000 is for salaries and expenses for the Offices of United States Attorneys;
(3) $4,000,000 each year is for salaries and expenses for the Criminal Division; and
(4) $2,000,000 is for salaries and expenses for the Office of the Attorney General for the management of such prosecutions.
(b) Authorization of Appropriations for Department of Treasury- There is authorized to be appropriated to the Department of the Treasury for salaries and expenses of the Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FINCEN) not more than $10,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2009 and 2010 in support of the prosecution of high-level drug offenses.
[c] Authorization of Appropriations for Department of Homeland Security- There is authorized to be appropriated for the Department of Homeland Security not more than $10,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2009 and 2010 for salaries and expenses in support of the prosecution of high-level drug offenses.
(d) Additional Funds- Amounts authorized to be appropriated under this section shall be in addition to amounts otherwise available for, or in support of, the prosecution of high-level drug offenses.
We need a bill like H.R. 460 (introduced in 2007) that says one thing and one thing only: The penalty for crack cocaine is the same as that currently provided for powder. And those already in prison need relief from the unfairly disparate sentences.
So, while I'm glad to see Congress will be taking some action, I'm not jumping for joy because I don't like the inadequate relief being proposed as a solution. And I think groups like the ACLU, FAMM and the Sentencing Project should be lobbying for a bill that proposes only a fix for the disparity....not one that ratchets up penalties in other ways and pours huge sums of money into our woe-begone war on drugs.
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