News Release

U.S. Department of Justice Supports Ending Obscene Disparity in Cocaine Sentencing

Washington, DC­ (April 29, 2009) -- Assistant United States Attorney General Lanny Breuer today announced that DOJ and the administration support ending the 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and equalizing the sentencing regimes. The policy position, declared at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, is the first time the Department of Justice has publicly supported equalization of cocaine sentencing.

Currently, Federal drug sentences for possession and sale are based on the weight of the controlled substance. For over two decades, for example, possession of five grams of cocaine base (crack cocaine) has triggered the same mandatory five year sentence as possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) supports fully the administration’s abandonment of an unjust penalty scheme that has resulted in overwhelming and irrational racial disparities in our prison population for essentially the same offense. For a generation, NACDL has maintained that the penalty for possession of a drug should never be more harmful to a person or society than the drug itself.

In his April 29, 2009, testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Crime and Drugs, NACDL President John Wesley Hall explained that “For more than twenty years, the sentencing disparity for crack as compared to powder cocaine has come to symbolize the flaws of the federal sentencing system and the shortcomings of the Sentencing Reform Act.”

NACDL strongly urges Congress to immediately change the federal sentencing laws in accordance with the current position of the Obama administration and the Department of Justice and altogether end the disparity in sentencing as between crack and powder cocaine.

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NACDL Communications Department

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.