Crack Cocaine Sentences Reduced to Achieve Fairness in Sentencing

Law Firm Newswire



Lakeland, FL (Law Firm Newswire) September 8, 2015 – Crack cocaine users handed a greater than the mandatory minimum sentence had their jail term(s) reduced after a revision of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (FSA).

The public hearing that triggered the major revision of the FSA was held by the United States Sentencing Commission in 2011. The mere suggestion that hundreds, if not thousands, of inmates could possibly have their drug related sentences reduced triggered an avalanche of correspondences asking that the proposed new rules be applied.

The Act’s revision met with very little opposition and managed to pass Congress with bipartisan support. Only those who initially received minimum sentences would not have their sentences reduced.

“Of interest is the report Geographical Distribution of Application of Retroactive Crack Cocaine Amendment by District,” added Lakeland, Florida, criminal defense attorney, Thomas C. Grajek.

The Act was revised to reflect a much needed change in the criminal sentencing process and address an unequal balance between fairness and equality in sentencing. Crack cocaine cases had traditionally been an area where sentences seemed routinely out of proportion to the offense. The Criminal Code had read that way for over a decade and a half, and it was time to correct the imbalances inherent in the original sentencing structure.

“In most instances, the seriousness and nature of a crime usually determines what a sentence should or would be. That being said, there was also a human element involved in sentencing that incorporated public opinion and the moral sensibilities of the times,” explained Grajek.

Being guilty of possessing crack cocaine, not selling it, was a different matter that needed to be addressed. However, crack in the 1980s was viewed with a jaundiced eye and a great deal of fear given how addictive it was. Congress wasted little time in passing very harsh sentences for possession of crack cocaine.

At that time, possessing one gram of crack received the same penalty as possessing 100 grams of regular cocaine. It was tough sentencing and regarded as controversial. Nonetheless, such sentencing remained in place within the Federal Sentencing Guidelines until 2010.

“The more relevant question, though, is whether or not the punishment fits the crime; put another way, it is all about proportionality,” said Grajek. Theoretically, everyone committing the same crime should receive the same sentence. That rarely happens, but is regarded as being usual, as the circumstances of a case tend to dictate its final outcome, including sentencing.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has been suggesting since 2005 that the disparity of crack cocaine sentences be addressed. It took 15 years to make that happen, but it did. Sentences are still higher for crack cocaine, but are not as high as before.

“It is important to note that the change to the sentencing struture relating to crack cocaine only applies to future offenses. Many people are not aware of that. However, the guidelines for these offense were reduced in 2007,” said Grajek. “Those changes may be applied retroactively. This means anyone sentenced under the older, existing guidelines may ask for resentencing under the ones established in 2007. In any event, you need a criminal defense attorney to accomplish that for you.”