Pubdate: Fri, 21 Dec 2007
Source: San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Copyright: 2007 San Antonio Express-News
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling giving federal  judges more
discretion to give lesser sentences in  crack cocaine cases was an
overdue adjustment.

Although sentencing disparities for powdered cocaine  and crack
evolved from an understandable concern about  the crack epidemic of
the 1980s, the difference became  an inequitable punishment for
African American  defendants.

By no stretch of the imagination does the ruling signal  intent to go
easy in crack cases; it merely equalizes  justice. The district judge
in the case heard by the  high court handed down a 15-year sentence
instead of  the recommended minimum of 19 years.

The opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in  the Virginia
case details the numerous recommendations  of the U.S. Sentencing
Commission to equalize treatment  of defendants in crack and powder
cocaine cases.

And Ginsburg noted, "Approximately 85 percent of  defendants convicted
of crack offenses in federal court  are black; thus the severe
sentences required by the  100-to-1 ratio are imposed primarily upon
black  offenders."

The ratio she referred to is the 1986 law that treated  1 gram of
crack as the equivalent of 100 grams of  cocaine. Legislation is
pending in Congress to change  the ratio to 20-to-1.

The sentencing commission has supported the change.

Crack and powdered cocaine are dangerous and insidious.  Sentencing
for distributing either form of the drug  should remain stiff, but
treatment should be equal and  judges need reasonable discretion.
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