Will help end more than 20 years of racial inequity in federal sentencing
Washington, DC (April 28, 2007) -- The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has fought for fairness in drug sentencing since the first set of U.S. Sentencing Guidelines was drafted 20 years ago. NACDL has actively participated in the guidelines comment and amendment process continuously since then. On May 1, the Sentencing Commission will send an amendment to the cocaine base (“crack”) guideline to Congress which will bring some small measure of fairness back into drug sentences, and NACDL supports the new guideline as a sensible and progressive first step toward ending the unfair disparity in cocaine sentencing.
Federal drug sentences for possession and sale are based on the weight of the controlled substance. For two decades, the federal sentencing guidelines have treated possession of one gram of cocaine base as the equivalent of 100 grams of powder cocaine. According to the Sentencing Commission, the proposed amendment will bring the federal sentencing guideline more closely into line with the mandatory minimum penalties set by Congress for possession of crack cocaine.
NACDL President-Elect Carmen Hernandez testified in favor of harmonizing the penalties for crack and powder cocaine before the Sentencing Commission during hearings last fall, asking the Commission to fix what it could and recommend to Congress that it fully remedy this long-standing injustice.
At the association’s spring board meeting in Cincinnati today, Ms. Hernandez, a Washington, D.C.-based federal criminal defense lawyer, again observed, “The Commission has long recognized that the current guidelines scheme is unjust, and an amendment is long overdue. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fact that 83 percent of inmates serving time in the federal system for crack cocaine are minorities, and their sentences are more than 50 percent longer than inmates serving time for cocaine powder, even though crack defendants tend to be low-level street dealers. In fact, the average sentence for possession of crack cocaine is far longer than the average sentences for violent crimes such as robbery and sexual abuse.”
Congress has six months to consider the Commission’s May 1 amendments. If Congress takes no action, the new guidelines will become effective on Nov. 1, 2007.
NACDL urges Congress to respect the Commission’s decision, which was made after consideration of the testimony and evidence that it has reviewed at Congress’ direction for more than a decade and allow these amendments to go into effect. We also recommend to Congress that it carefully consider the reports and evidence the Commission has compiled and complete the task started by the Commission by finally eliminating the injustice built into the current 100-1 disparity between cocaine powder and crack sentencing.
Ms. Hernandez’s Nov. 15, 2006, written testimony is available on the Commission’s Web site at: http://www.ussc.gov/hearings/11_15_06/Hernandez-NACDL-testimony.pdf.
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.