Pubdate: Sun, 16 Dec 2007
Source: Citizens' Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
Copyright: 2007 The Citizens' Voice
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


The U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Sentencing  Commission struck
blows for fairness this week.

Monday, the Supreme Court restored to federal judges  the power to

That is, it gave judges the power to deviate from  sentencing
guidelines in order to better make  punishment fit the particular crime.

That largely had been eliminated through mandatory and  sometimes
draconian sentencing standards established by  Congress.

Meanwhile, the issue before the Sentencing Commission  was mandatory
sentence disparities for possession of  crack or powder cocaine. Under
federal law, possession  of 50 grams of crack cocaine carries the same
mandatory  10-year-sentence as possession of 5,000 grams of powder

That 100-to-1 standard was passed in reaction to the  crack epidemic
of the 1980s. Congress sought to quell  drug-related violence in big
cities with the harsh  sentences. It quickly became obvious, however,
that  most crack sentences were imposed on blacks while most  powder
sentences were imposed on whites, even though  they possessed the same

According to the commission, the average  crack-possession sentence
turned out to be 17 percent  longer than the average powder-possession

An equalized standard took effect Nov. 1, after  Congress did not
object to the commission's  recommendation. (That recommendation first
was made in  1995, when U.S. District Judge Richard Conaboy of
Scranton headed the commission.)

This week the commission decided that the new fair  standard should be
applied retroactively. Beginning  next March, up to 19,500 federal
prisoners serving time  for crack-related convictions will have the
opportunity  to apply for adjusted sentences.

But adjustments will not be automatic. Because the  Supreme Court has
restored judicial discretion to many  aspects of sentencing, judges
across the country will  be able to determine each sentence
application on its  own merit, and according to the circumstances of
each  crime.

That is just how the system should work. The historic  decisions by
the court and the commission restored  color-blindness to a large part
of the justice system.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Steve Heath