New Study Documents Sentencing Waste: Unfair Crack Sentences Cost Taxpayers $3.5 Billion
Washington, DC (June 15, 1995) -- Racially discriminatory federal sentences for drug offenses involving crack cocaine will waste $3.5 billion of taxpayers' money if Congress fails to follow the recommendations of the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce those sentences, a report prepared for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) reveals.
The study, prepared by prominent criminal defense attorney John W. Coyle, III, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, documents that some $3.5 billion can still be saved during the terms of already-sentenced inmates by reducing their sentences to what they would be if the sentences for crack had been equal to those for powder cocaine when they were sentenced.
Federal law currently imposes much harsher sentences -- as much as 100 times greater -- on persons convicted of possession of crack cocaine than it imposes on those convicted of possessing equivalent quantities of powder cocaine. Yet according to medical experts, there is no scientific evidence to support the suggestion that crack is more addictive or dangerous than powder cocaine. The Coyle report confirms that in 1994, while African-Americans accounted for 30.5 percent of persons sentenced for powder cocaine offenses, they comprised 90.5 percent of those sentenced under the harsher crack penalties. Just four percent of those sentenced for crack offenses were white. African-Americans make up 32 percent of all persons convicted of powder cocaine offenses since 1988 but 80.9 percent of those convicted of crack offenses, the report shows.
Based on its own February 1995 study, the Sentencing Commission recommended on May 1, 1995 that crack and powder cocaine sentences under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines be equalized. The Commission also submitted legislation to equalize the statutory mandatory minimum sentences, which overlay the Guidelines and impose the same inequitable sentences. Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) has also introduced legislation to equalize the sentences (H.R.1264; the "Crack Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act").
"The Sentencing Commission has done the just thing by recommending elimination of this racially discriminatory difference in sentences," NACDL President Gerald H. Goldstein, of San Antonio, Texas, commented. "The Coyle report shows that the Commission's recommendation makes financial sense for the country, too." NACDL and its members have been at the forefront of challenging the racially discriminatory impact of the crack sentences in court. Several federal judges have refused to impose the harsher crack sentences, including some who have found them unconstitutional.
Coyle, 47, a partner in Coyle & McCoy, has been practicing law in Oklahoma City since 1974, specializing in defending citizens accused of crime. He is now best known as one of two lawyers originally appointed to represent Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh and later permitted to withdraw from that case because they lost friends in that tragic incident. A graduate of Oklahoma City University (B.A., 1971; J.D., 1974), Mr. Coyle defended accused child killer Jimmie Ray Slaughter in the longest murder trial in Oklahoma history. In March, 1995, he won an acquittal in State v. Dewey White, a case known in Oklahoma as the "Valentine's Day murders."
"I am not a specialist in drug cases," Mr. Coyle says, "but as a result of representing a defendant in a crack cocaine case in Oklahoma City, I became incensed at the unfairness of the enhanced penalties for crack."
A complete explanation of the crack cocaine sentencing disparity can be found in the NACDL Legislative Policy Paper, Crack Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, which precedes Mr. Coyle's attached report.