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Author Topic: Sentencing Reductions Effective For Crack Cocaine Possession  (Read 8231 times)

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Offline Dazzler

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Sentencing Reductions Effective For Crack Cocaine Possession
« on: March 04, 2008, 07:49:46 AM »
U.S. SENTENCING COMMISSION VOTES UNANIMOUSLY TO
APPLY AMENDMENT RETROACTIVELY FOR CRACK COCAINE OFFENSES

Effective Date for Retroactivity Set for March 3, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 11, 2007) ó The United States Sentencing Commission unanimously voted today to give retroactive effect to a recent amendment to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that reduces penalties for crack cocaine offenses. Retroactivity of the crack cocaine amendment will become effective on March 3, 2008. Not every crack cocaine offender will be eligible for a lower sentence under the decision. A Federal sentencing judge will make the final determination of whether an offender is eligible for a lower sentence and how much that sentence should be lowered. That determination will be made only after consideration of many factors, including the Commissionís direction to consider whether lowering the offenderís sentence would pose a danger to public safety. In addition, the overall impact is anticipated to occur incrementally over approximately 30 years, due to the limited nature of the guideline amendment and the fact that many crack cocaine offenders will still be required under Federal law to serve mandatory five- or ten-year sentences because of the amount of crack involved in their offense.

On November 1, 2007, after a six-month congressional review period, the Commissionís amendment to the Federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses took effect. The amendment was intended as a step toward reducing some of the unwarranted disparity currently existing between Federal crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 specifically authorized the Commission to provide for retroactive effect of amendments that result in lower penalties for classes of offenses or offenders, as this amendment could.

The Commission made its decision on retroactivity of the crack cocaine amendment after months of deliberation and years of examining cocaine sentencing issues. It solicited public comment on the issue of retroactivity and received over 33,000 letters or written comments, almost all of which were in favor of retroactivity. Last month, it held a full-day hearing on the issue of retroactivity and heard from key stakeholders in the federal criminal justice community.

The Commission considered a number of factors during its deliberations, including the purpose for lowering crack cocaine sentences, the limit on any reduction allowed by the amendment, whether it would be difficult for the courts to apply the reduction, and whether making the amendment retroactive would raise public safety concerns or cause unwarranted sentencing disparity in the federal system. Ultimately, the Commission determined that the statutory purposes of sentencing are best served by retroactive application of the amendment. Mindful of public safety and judicial resource concerns, the Commission today issued direction to the courts on the limited nature of this and all other retroactive amendments and on the need to consider public safety in each case. The Commission delayed the effective date of its decision on retroactivity in order to give the courts sufficient time to prepare for and process these cases.

The Commissionís actions today, as well as promulgation of the original amendment for crack cocaine offenses, are only a partial step in mitigating the unwarranted sentencing disparity that exists between Federal powder and crack cocaine defendants. The Commission has continued to call on Congress to address the issue of the 100-to-1 statutory ratio that drives Federal cocaine sentencing policy. Only Congress can provide a comprehensive solution to a fundamental unfairness in Federal sentencing policy. The Commission has consistently expressed its readiness and willingness to work with Congress and others in the criminal justice community to address this very important issue.

The bipartisan United States Sentencing Commission, an independent agency in the judicial branch of the federal government, was organized in 1985 to develop national sentencing policy for the federal courts. The resulting sentencing guidelines help to ensure that similar offenders who commit similar offenses receive similar sentences.
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Offline Schrader42

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Re: Sentencing Reductions Effective For Crack Cocaine Possession
« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2008, 08:07:55 AM »
So many are upset over this decision because they feel that doors are opening up for offenders.  I think it's a good decision as most of these aren't violent offenders and will ease the prison population problem.  If only they could do something for the long serving "C" inmates in Illinois. 

Offline Dazzler

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Re: Sentencing Reductions Effective For Crack Cocaine Possession
« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2008, 08:26:33 AM »
Well, this is a good decision.  Crack cocaine contains only a fraction of powder cocaine yet it's possession was sentenced ridiculously stiffer than for possession of powder cocaine.  The disparity in sentencing has flooded prisons with offenders.  This should trickle down to state courts as well. 
~ "I have visited some of the best and the worst prisons and have never seen signs of coddling, but I have seen the terrible results of the boredom and frustration of empty hours and pointless existence." ~ US Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger

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Offline Schrader42

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Re: Sentencing Reductions Effective For Crack Cocaine Possession
« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2008, 08:41:16 AM »
That's right, the substance is most always danced on so what they have is not enough for these stiff sentences.  Good ruling!

Offline walking_stick

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Re: Sentencing Reductions Effective For Crack Cocaine Possession
« Reply #4 on: March 04, 2008, 08:46:26 AM »
So many are upset over this decision because they feel that doors are opening up for offenders.  I think it's a good decision as most of these aren't violent offenders and will ease the prison population problem.  If only they could do something for the long serving "C" inmates in Illinois. 


I agree. I hope that they look at alot more offenses and do this same thing. I have a question though.... What are "C" inmates? and what do other letters stand for also?

Offline Jims

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Re: Sentencing Reductions Effective For Crack Cocaine Possession
« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2008, 08:48:08 AM »
"C" inmates are those who were sentenced prior to the Truth in Sentencing laws (prior to 1978) and are still under the old parole system. They come before the parole board regularly.
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Offline Schrader42

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Re: Sentencing Reductions Effective For Crack Cocaine Possession
« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2008, 08:48:08 AM »
Here's more on this:

First of crack convicts freed after sentencing reform
Story Highlights
NEW: At least a dozen more inmates are expected to be released by day's end

One gram crack, 100 grams of cocaine previously commanded same sentences

Advocates say crack users often black, while powder cocaine users typically white

Nearly 1,600 federal inmates eligible to ask court to reduce their sentences

From Kevin Bohn
CNN

(CNN) -- At least four federal inmates convicted on crack cocaine charges were freed Monday, a result of federal efforts to close the gap between sentences doled out for crack and for its purer, powder counterpart.

The four prisoners were released from federal institutions in Virginia, according to Michael Nachmanoff, a federal public defender representing them. At least a dozen defendants were expected to be released by day's end, according to several lawyers.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent federal agency that advises the three branches of government, made retroactive its decision allowing imprisoned crack offenders to request lighter sentences.

The December decision was based on the difference in prison terms handed out for crack convictions, largely affecting blacks, versus terms for powder cocaine, most often affecting whites. Crack cocaine offenses typically demand stiffer sentences.

Approximately 1,600 federal inmates are eligible to ask a court to reduce their sentences because of the December decision. Judges could eventually reduce sentences for nearly 20,000 inmates.

Advocates of sentence reduction say it's only fair, but the Justice Department counters that the move will allow dangerous criminals back on the street. Watch why officials are worried about inmates' early release Ľ

The Justice Department is concerned "that so many people would be released all at once -- people who have shown that they are repeat offenders -- and without the possibility of any kind of transition or re-entry program to bring them from prison back to the streets," Deborah Rhodes, an associate deputy attorney general, said.

But lawyers and groups that have been pushing for sentencing reduction disagree. They say that most of the prisoners are not hardened criminals. Also, they add, judges will have to approve any reduction on a case-by-case basis and won't likely grant early releases to criminals considered dangerous.

"Judges have a lot of discretion," said Nachmanoff, whose office filed 16 motions for early release. Some of those will be going to halfway houses, he said.

"If [judges] view a particular defendant a public danger there is nothing in the law that obligates them to lower that sentence," he said. Judges "can also impose intermediate protections as well or refer someone to a halfway house, or to home confinement."

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in December that judges can impose shorter prison sentences for crack cocaine. If judges approve reductions, the Justice Department hopes they will be limited.

The Supreme Court case dealt with Derrick Kimbrough of Norfolk, Virginia, who according to court records, pleaded guilty to distributing more than 50 grams of crack cocaine.

Federal sentencing guidelines called for at least 19 years behind bars. Judge Raymond Jackson instead gave Kimbrough 15 years, calling the case "another example of how crack-cocaine guidelines are driving the offense level to a point higher than is necessary to do justice."

A federal appeals court later overturned the case and sent it to a higher court, claiming Jackson's discretion was "unreasonable when it is based on a disagreement with the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses."

But writing for the majority in the Supreme Court's decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said it is important to preserve judicial discretion, while ensuring most sentences remain within federal guidelines.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey told a police group last week that statistics from the Sentencing Commission show that nearly 80 percent of the almost 20,000 who can ultimately apply in the coming years for reductions have a prior criminal record.

The commission, however, in a recent report pointed out that only 1 percent of the 1,600 immediately eligible were considered "career criminals."

Previously, a person with one gram of crack would receive the same sentence as someone with 100 grams of the powder version.

Those advocating sentencing reform, such as the Families Against Mandatory Minimums, argue that such a ratio is discriminatory, and they point to a racial issue associated with the disparity in sentencing. Many of those found with crack are African-American, while powder users are mostly white.

While the commission set Monday as the date for the retroactive measure to take effect, some of the eligible prisoners are already free. Because the panel's date was advisory, judges were allowed to make their own decisions.

Public defender David Porter, who works in Sacramento, California, said that judges there had already approved the release of two of his clients.

Since the December ruling, lawyers have been filing motions for many of those eligible so they could be released as close to March 3 as possible, if judges approve.

Other inmates, such as 60-year-old amputee Burton Hagwood, who has been in prison since 2000, petitioned the actual courts. His wife, who did not wish to be identified, said he is not violent and would not be a threat to society.

"He wants to come back to the community. And he also wants to help the community. He plans on doing some paralegal work when he gets out. So he would be an asset," she said.

All AboutCocaine ē U.S. Supreme Court

Offline Schrader42

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Re: Sentencing Reductions Effective For Crack Cocaine Possession
« Reply #7 on: March 04, 2008, 08:50:37 AM »
"C" inmates are those who were sentenced prior to the Truth in Sentencing laws (prior to 1978) and are still under the old parole system. They come before the parole board regularly.


A true nightmare that never ends for these inmates.

Offline Dazzler

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Re: Sentencing Reductions Effective For Crack Cocaine Possession
« Reply #8 on: March 04, 2008, 08:54:36 AM »
C# inmates, which are about 300, were sentenced prior to 1978, before mandatory Life without parole went into effect.  They are eligible to appear before the Prison Review Board and seek release periodically.  However, most are still denied parole.
~ "I have visited some of the best and the worst prisons and have never seen signs of coddling, but I have seen the terrible results of the boredom and frustration of empty hours and pointless existence." ~ US Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger

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~ Mahatma Gandhi

Offline walking_stick

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Re: Sentencing Reductions Effective For Crack Cocaine Possession
« Reply #9 on: March 04, 2008, 08:55:29 AM »
OH MY!! i certainly didnt realize... WOW! yes something needs to be done about that for sure. Well anyways now everyone can tell im a prison virgin.....LOL. don't know anything about the letters or what they stand for. thanks for filling me in. going to have to do some research on this. thats just not fair! :wc32:

Offline Dazzler

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Re: Sentencing Reductions Effective For Crack Cocaine Possession
« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2008, 09:07:42 AM »
You can read all about the Lettering system used by the IDOC here:

http://www.illinoisprisontalk.org/index.php/topic,5737.0.html
~ "I have visited some of the best and the worst prisons and have never seen signs of coddling, but I have seen the terrible results of the boredom and frustration of empty hours and pointless existence." ~ US Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger

~ "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."
~ Mahatma Gandhi

Offline downtownchicago

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Re: Sentencing Reductions Effective For Crack Cocaine Possession
« Reply #11 on: March 04, 2008, 03:28:42 PM »
Thank you for posting that article, Schrader.  We cannot have laws that are effectively racist !