On Tuesday, President Obama signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which lessened the difference in penalties between crack cocaine offenses and powder cocaine offenses.
Previously and as discussed in an earlier blog, someone caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine would face a five-year mandatory minimum under Federal Law. You could get the same penalty for only 5 grams of crack cocaine. A 10-year mandatory minimum for crack cocaine kicked in for 10 grams of the drug. The same penalty would not come in for a powder-cocaine suspect unless he was carrying 1,000 grams.
Now, the penalties for crack cocaine have been reduced, and the mandatory minimum for simple possession of small amounts of crack cocaine has been removed entirely.
The old penalties were a mistake, and one born of an unjustified fear of a crack cocaine epidemic in this country that never happened. The Legislature made a knee-jerk reaction to that fear and put the strict sentencing rules in place in 1986. And who was affected by it? Poor, young African Americans, who now clog our federal prisons. Finally, 24 years later, that mistake has been rectified.
Unfortunately, there is nothing in the new law that directly calls for a review of those who were sentenced under the old guidelines. When Toyota or General Motors find a mistake in one of their cars, they recall the rest that are already out on the road (sometimes unwillingly). Without a review and sentencing changes, the mistake here really hasn’t been fixed.
There’s no mistaking that a review of all of those incarcerated under the old law would be a huge process and require thousands of man hours. But that’s no excuse not to do it. Our Court system should be held to the highest standards if we truly want to claim that we stand for liberty.