For Immediate Release
BREAKING NEWS: Senate Judiciary Votes to Reform Federal Crack Cocaine Sentencing Policies
Eliminates first mandatory minimum since Nixon Administration
WASHINGTON - Moments ago, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill that would reduce the sentencing disparity between federal crack and powder cocaine offenses.
The bipartisan vote to approve an amended version of Senator Richard Durbin's (D-Ill.) bill, S. 1789, acknowledging that disparate sentencing policies enacted for federal crack cocaine offenses in 1986 have had a negative impact on the nation's criminal justice system.
The amended bill would reduce the ratio between crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 20:1 and direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to enhance penalties for aggravating factors like violence or bribery of a law enforcement officer. Significantly, the bill also would eliminate the mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack.
"This is an exciting vote, but also disappointing. We hoped the Committee would go further in making crack penalties the same as powder. There was no scientific basis for the 100:1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine created 24 years ago, and there is no scientific basis for today's vote of 20:1 ," said FAMM President Julie Stewart. "However, if this imperfect bill becomes law, it will provide some long-overdue relief to thousands of defendants sentenced each year.
With regard to the bill's provision that would eliminate the mandatory sentence for simple possession of crack, Ms. Stewart stated, "If enacted, this legislation would repeal a mandatory minimum law for the first time since the Nixon administration."
Under the Senate's proposed 20:1 ratio, a conviction for 28 grams of crack cocaine will trigger a five year prison sentence and for 280 grams of crack a 10 year sentence. The 20:1 ratio could affect an estimated 3,100 cases annually, reducing sentences by an average of about 30 months. The bill would not, however, reduce sentences for those currently incarcerated for crack offenses. Impact of the amendment's other provisions has not yet been calculated.
The House Judiciary Committee passed its own crack cocaine sentencing reform bill on July 29. H.R. 3245, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009, introduced by Congressman Robert "Bobby" Scott (D-V.A.), removes references to "cocaine base" from the U.S. Code, thus treating all cocaine, including crack, the same for sentencing purposes.