Washington, DC (December 11, 2007) – Carmen D. Hernandez, president of the 13,000-member National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, issued the following statement praising the decision of the U.S. Sentencing Commission to make the 2007 cocaine base guideline amendment retroactive for all affected federal prisoners:
“The Commission did the right thing today when it acted to correct the injustice that had resulted from the current 100:1 crack/powder ratio for cocaine offenses by allowing defendants who were sentenced under that scheme to benefit from the modest changes that the Commission made last year. For more than a decade, the Commission on its own and at the request of Congress has studied crack cocaine sentences and found, based on scientific research and on common experience, that sentences for crack cocaine offenses furthered, rather than eliminated, unwarranted sentencing disparity. Low level crack dealers are sentenced more severely than major powder cocaine traffickers even though both crack and powder cocaine are the same chemical and with the same effects. This unwarranted disparity is particularly disturbing because of its racial impact – 83 percent of inmates serving time in the federal prison for crack cocaine offenses are minorities, and their sentences are more than 50 percent longer than inmates serving time for cocaine powder.”
With the recent decision by the Supreme Court in United States v. Kimbrough, which affirmed the discretion of federal judges to consider that the crack cocaine guidelines render sentences that are “greater than necessary” to achieve just punishment, federal judges will be able to consider the nature and circumstances of each offense and the history and characteristics of each offender in resentencing defendants, who have been serving unjustifiable sentences. “The benefit from the modest reductions that the Commission made earlier this year should not be based on whether a defendant was sentenced on the first day of November or the last day of October,” Hernandez said.
The Commission’s action is a partial remedy to the harsh sentences that apply to crack cocaine offenses. It remains for Congress to heed the work of the Sentencing Commission and further reduce crack sentences to bring them in line with sentences for cocaine and other drug offenses, which are already greater than necessary to serve the goals of just punishment.
Ms. Hernandez, a criminal defense lawyer in Washington, D.C. and federal sentencing expert, testified in favor of reducing the crack/powder penalty disparity before the Sentencing Commission last fall. Her written statement may be found on the Commission’s web site at: http://www.ussc.gov/hearings/11_15_06/Hernandez-NACDL-testimony.pdf.
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