Crack Cocaine Fair Sentencing Act Takes Effect

Thousands of federal inmates stand to be released early now that the Fair Sentencing Act took effect on Tuesday. The Act, passed by Congress in 2010, was designed to reduce sentencing disparities between those convicted of powder cocaine versus crack cocaine offenses. While it’s not entirely “fair”, the act does improve things significantly.

Prior to Tuesday, someone caught with 5 grams of crack cocaine would face the same penalty as someone caught in possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine. Now, with the new law in place, that ratio has gone from 5:500 to 1:18, a significant improvement indeed—though far from being completely fair.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has estimated around 12,000 current inmates will benefit from the law change, with the effects spreading over the course of several years. About 1,900 inmates are eligible for immediate release, however.

While the original Fair Sentencing Act didn’t speak to retroactivity and instead only applied to cases not yet sentenced, the Sentencing Commission voted this summer to apply the change to anyone sentenced under the old law, making so many eligible for an earlier than anticipated release.

When original crack laws were passed, some questionable research was promoted that said crack was more addictive and far more dangerous than powder cocaine. Now that much of that research has been discredited and the effects of the disparate laws on poor minority communities have been acknowledged, lawmakers were more amenable to making the playing field slightly more level.

The process of an early release begins with defense attorneys and prosecutors reviewing files, whether on their own accord or through recommendations of the inmates and their families. Then, a request is sent to a judge who forwards an order to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Make no mistake, possession of crack cocaine can still result in a very lengthy prison sentence, longer than one for powder cocaine, for certain. But the new law will serve to sentence these offenders at a slightly less disproportionate rate than before.

While this affects federal inmates, some states had similarly disparate laws on the books while others kept crack and powder cocaine sentences equal. When you are charged with possession of crack, the best way to know for certain what exactly you are up against and if the new laws have any affect, is to speak with a local criminal defense attorney. Contact us today to speak with a drug possession defense lawyer.

About David Matson

David writes about criminal justice issues.
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  • Jenny

    I wanted to know if this act applies to the state and local charges or if it is just for federal cases. I have someone in Indiana state DOC that is looking for a defense attorney to handle his case.

  • admin

    Jenny, This particular law is about Federal sentencing, but there may be other applicable statutes and defenses that apply under Indiana law. It’s certainly worth a call to an attorney (or two) in Indiana.

  • ali rivera

    does the fair sentencing act of 2010 apply to the state of florida involving crack cocaine sentencing?

  • admin

    Ali, generally it applies to cases in Federal court. If you have a case in a Florida state court, you need to speak to your Florida attorney to determine whether this Federal law is of any help to you.

  • Scott

    My Husband is in SC prison and he was given 20 yrs back in 99 he has done almost 13 years I was wanting to know if this new law was coming to state prisons soon?? We have money and I’m willing to pay for information…Even if I could get his sentence reduced to 15 yrs following under this law I need more information please

  • admin

    You need to speak to an attorney in South Carolina experienced with these issues.
    There is probably nothing specific to this law that helps you, but the fact that sentencing reform is actually on the table, and people are waking up to the fact that we have created a monstrous, expensive, nationwide prison-industrial complex that serves us poorly is a positive development.
    Best wishes to you and your husband.

  • Gary

    My son is serving 8-16 on delivery charges of crack to informant he is in state penitentary in philldelphia pa. is he elgible for the fair sentencing act?

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