Sentences in federal court for crack cocaine offenses will be reduced for many people, based on an amendment issued by the United States Sentencing Commission on December 11, 2007. This is good news for defendants who have been forced to spend longer in prison than similary situated defendants who were convicted of powder cocaine violations.
As I wrote about recently, crack cocaine is punished 100 times more severely than powder cocaine. Virtually all crack cocaine defendants are non-white, while at the same time people of all colors are prosecuted under the less stringent powder cocaine rules. For years, scientists and criminal defense attorneys have been arguing that this difference makes no sense, is unfair, and promotes widespread disrespect for the law.
The Sentencing Commission finally saw things our way, and agreed that the 100-1 ratio is unfair and makes no sense. For years now, the Commisson has been asking Congress to do something, but our elected lawmakers have failed to act. Earlier this year, the Commission published new rules designed to help this situation a little bit. After a six month period during which Congress could have squashed the changes, the new rules went into effect. Even more importantly, the December 11 amendment made these changes retroactive, which is a fancy way of saying the new rules apply to people who have already been sentenced. In other words, if you or a loved one was sentenced even many years ago, there is a chance that sentence can be reduced.
The Sentencing Commission says that the retroactivity rule will not go into effect until March 3, 2008, so it does no good to ask a judge for anything until that date. However, for those who may be affected, it makes sense to get ready and try to get to the head of the line. At our law firm, Kish & Lietz, we will be glad to talk with you about whether we can assist your loved one in getting a reduced sentence.