In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Sentencing Commission wants to retroactively reduce the prison sentences of approximately 19,500 federal inmates convicted of crack cocaine charges.
The decision is intended to lighten sentences retroactively for certain crimes related to crack cocaine and narrow the disparity between sentences for cocaine powder and crack cocaine. Crack cocaine was previously thought to be more dangerous. The U.S. sentencing commission recently reduced the sentences for crack cocaine possession, effective November 1. Under the Sentencing Act of 1984, lowering the penalties for a crime is retroactive.
86% o the 19,500 prisoners serving sentences for crack cocaine convictions are black.
Some 3,800 prisoners could be released within one year of the March 3 effective date, which will give prison officials and judges time to handle a number of issues, including public safety. In Massachusetts, 91 inmates convicted of crack cocaine may find their requests for reduced sentences granted. The decision on whether to reduce their sentences will be made by federal judges.
The Bush administration opposes reducing crack cocaine sentences retroactively. Attorney General Michael Mukasey says that changing the standard retroactively for those that were convicted prior to the rule change would disregard any mitigating factors that judges had considered when setting the prison sentences.
New U.S. Sentencing Guidelines for Crack Cocaine Offenders:
• 1st time offenders convicted of possessing at least 5 grams of crack cocaine must serve 51 to 63 months in prison (previously 63 to 78 months).
• 1st time offenders with a minimum of 50 grams of cocaine may serve 97-121 months in prison (previously 121-151 months).
The majority of the 200,000 federal prisoners in the U.S. are drug offenders. Offenses involving cocaine are covered under federal and state laws.
Crack sentences eligible to be cut, Boston.com, December 12, 2007
Panel Says 19,500 Crack Inmates Can Seek Reduced Sentences, CNN.com/AP, December 12, 2007
Sentencing Commission Votes Unanimously to Apply Amendment Retroactively for Crack Cocaine Offenses, USSC.gov, December 11, 2007
U.S. Sentencing Ranges Lowered for Crack Cocaine, NPR.org, November 2, 2007
Related Web Resources:
United States Sentencing Commission
The Sentencing Project
The Cambridge, Massachusetts criminal defense law firm of Altman & Altman LLP represents persons arrested and convicted of drug charges under federal or state laws. Contact Altman & Altman LLP and ask for your free consultation with one of our criminal defense lawyers.