Crack, Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity Undermines Criminal Justice System

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Linda Paris, (202) 675-2312; media@dcaclu.org

Crack, Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity Undermines Criminal Justice System

WASHINGTON - Caroline
Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office,
testified today before the U.S. Sentencing Commission about the need
for Congressional action to eliminate both the unjust crack and powder
cocaine sentencing disparity and the mandatory minimum sentences for
narcotics. 

 
“The
creation of crack cocaine mandatory minimum sentences, developed in the
wake of a flood of misinformation, illustrates the need for the
Commission and Congress to base sentences on facts not fear,” said
Fredrickson. “Only when sentences reflect a review of the best
pharmacological and social science evidence will the perception and
reality of racial bias be eliminated.”
 
Under
current federal law, a first time simple possession of five grams of
crack cocaine requires the same five-year mandatory minimum prison
sentence as a person in possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine. The
injustices of this 100-to-1 disparity, based upon incorrect
presumptions about the nature of two forms of the same drug,
disproportionately impacts blacks, even though the majority of crack users are white.
 
In
testimony, Fredrickson pointed to the growing opposition to the current
federal cocaine sentencing laws. The increasing number of voices
calling for an end to the crack disparity and mandatory minimums
includes judges, members of Congress, and policymakers in the White
House and the Department of Justice. Fredrickson advocated for the
Commission, as the definitive authority on federal sentencing, to add
its voice to those urging Congress to act. Recently, Representative
Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) introduced a bill designed to equalize the
crack and powder sentencing laws, called the Drug Sentencing Reform and
Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2009.
 
“We
recognize that we are engaged in an incremental process to correct
20-year old failed drug policy,” testified Fredrickson. “We believe
that the first step should be the passage of Representative Jackson
Lee’s Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of
2009. We hope that in recommending its passage to Congress, the
Commission will emphasize that the Jackson-Lee bill is a first step
towards an end that will only be achieved when mandatory minimums are
also eliminated.”
 
The
hearing, held at Stanford Law School on May 27-28, was the second in a
series of regional public hearings on federal sentencing policy.
 

Fredrickson’s testimony is available online at:http://www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/sentencing/39690leg20090528.html

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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