Posted on Feb 02, 2014

The Justice Department has requested clemency petitions to the President on behalf of defendants convicted of federal crack cocaine charges. This is a remarkable development. Up until 2010 federal law punished crack cocaine defendants, who were overwhelmingly black, at a rate 100 times greater than powder cocaine defendants.  For example, 5 grams of crack cocaine got the same sentence -- 5 years imprisonment -- as 500 grams of powder cocaine.  In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act reduced this disparity from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1, still too much but better. However, even though everyone agrees that the old law was unjust and racially discriminatory, the federal courts have so far ruled that the 2010 law does not apply to defendants sentenced before the 2010 law.  

The Supreme Court will perhaps take up the issue. That's more likely than Congress acting in an election year. But if neither come through it will fall to President Obama to correct this unjustice, hence, the request for clemency petitions.

There has been a lot of media coverage of the clemency petition requests: Justice Dept. Starts Quest for Inmates To Be Freed, Justice Department Dramatically Expanding Clemency Use, and U.S. Launches Effort for Low-Level Drug Offenders.

Lexington, Kentucky criminal defense lawyer Robert Abell long ago called for changes to the crack cocaine laws in an article published in the Lexington Herald-Leader back in 2005, Congress Must Fix Inequitable Drug Sentences; contact him at 859-254-7076. 

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