End Racist Sentencing In Federal Drug Laws

Date: Fri, 13 Jul 2007
Subject: End Racist Sentencing In Federal Drug Laws


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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #350 – Friday, 13 July 2007

On Tuesday, July 10 syndicated columnist Debra J. Saunders released
her latest column in the San Francisco Chronicle. She details the
tedious progress in the U.S. Congress for rewriting the federal
penalties for possessing crack and powder cocaine. Additionally she
highlights how sentencing disparities are applied in overly racist

Worst, the laws were created with the intent to target high-volume
cocaine dealers but in actual application the vast majority of arrests
and convictions are levied on users and low level street dealers.

Senator Joe Biden has a bill in Congress that could really reform the
above disparities.

Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington
DC is quoted numerous times in Saunder’s analysis. See more about
CJPF here: http://www.cjpf.org

Please consider writing and sending a Letter to the Editor to the San
Francisco Chronicle or to the newspaper closest to your hometown that
picks up Saunders’ column as it gets reprinted across the country over
the coming weekend.

If you elect to write to more than one newspaper, we strongly suggest
at least some modification of your message so that each newspaper
receives a unique letter.

Letters of 200 words or less have the best chance of print unless
otherwise noted in MAP headers.

Thanks for your effort and support.

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Contact: The San Francisco Chronicle letters@sfchronicle.com

Other placements of this column can be found here (updated nightly)

US CA: Column: Heavy Time For Drug Lightweights

URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v07/n825/a05.html
Newshawk: http://www.drugsense.org/donate.htm
Pubdate: Tue, 10 Jul 2007
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.
Contact: letters@sfchronicle.com
Author: Debra J. Saunders
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/coke.htm (Cocaine)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?199 (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/racial.htm (Racial Issues)


WHEN Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, it wrongly
included language that meted out a mandatory minimum sentence of five
years for dealing 5 grams of crack cocaine, yet the same 5-year
mandatory minimum sentence for dealing 100 times that amount, or 500
grams, of powder cocaine. Thus, the bill codified a racially unjust
divide. The U.S. Sentencing Commission found that in 2000 some 84.7
percent of federal crack offenders were black, while only 5.6 percent
were white.

Everyone in Washington knows that the law is unfair — obscenely
unfair. The U.S. Sentencing Commission has made four recommendations
to curb the sentencing inequity. Alas, for the past two decades,
Democrats and Republicans have cravenly set out to out-posture each
other in toughness in the war on drugs. So Congress either voted
against or ignored the Sentencing Commission’s recommendations.

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., may be about to change the status quo. For
the past couple of years, Washington’s idea of reform has been to
fiddle with the concept of reducing the 100-to-1 crack/powder
sentencing disparity to 20-to-1. Last month, Biden made the brave
leap of proposing a bill to eliminate the sentencing disparity
completely, instead of making the law unfair, but less so.

As Biden wrote in a statement announcing his Drug Sentencing Reform &
Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007, the law needs to be changed
because “powder cocaine offenders who traffic 500 grams of powder (
2,500-5,000 doses ) receive the same 5-year mandatory minimum sentence
as crack cocaine offenders who posses just 5 grams of crack ( 10-50
doses ).” Biden’s bill would raise the amount of crack cocaine so that
500 grams of either crack or powder cocaine would trigger the same
mandatory minimum sentence.

Biden also included the Sentencing Commission recommendation to
eliminate the mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of 5
grams or more of crack, as crack is the only drug to mandate a prison
sentence for possession alone. While supporters might argue that the
possession penalty is tough on drugs, the Sentencing Commission
pointed out how weak the crack possession penalty actually is: “an
offender who simply possesses5 grams of crack cocaine receives the
same 5-year mandatory minimum penalty as a trafficker of other drugs.”

The ACLU is supportive. A statement lauded Biden’s bill as a
“long-awaited fix to discriminatory federal drug sentencing.”

But Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation is less
enthusiastic. “Most of my friends are a little embarrassed that I’m
not jumping up and down with them saying, ‘This is what we’ve been
working for.’ ”

While Sterling would like to see the 100-to-1 discrepancy end, he
believes that Congress needs to overhaul drug laws so that they
concentrate on kingpins, not low-level offenders.

“There shouldn’t be any crack cases in federal court, as a general
matter,” Sterling argued, “because crack is a purely retail
phenomenon. The trafficking is in powder cocaine.”

The irony is that most Americans think that federal mandatory minimum
sentences — with extra harsh penalties for crack dealers — are tough
on drug lords, when in fact, the systems goes easy on kingpins.

Sterling directed me to a Sentencing Commission fact table on 2006
federal cocaine cases. The median crack offense involved 51 grams of
crack — or 100 to 500 doses. The median powder cocaine offender
weight was 6,000 grams, about the amount of cocaine that would fill a
briefcase. Not exactly your major haul.

Not only do these weights suggest that most federal offenders were not
kingpins, but worse, the statistics also show that more than half of
federal cocaine cases were crack cases — dealing as little as 2.3
grams. One-third of crack cases involved 25 grams or less.

Drug kingpins should love the status quo.

Passage of the Biden bill would present a welcome change in
disparity-heavy drug laws. The goal should be laws with heavy
consequences for drug-trade heavyweights, instead of hefty sentences
for lightweights.



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Prepared by: The MAP Media Activism Team http://www.mapinc.org/resource