Supreme Court Supports Fair Sentencing in Cocaine Possession

The Fair Sentencing Act was passed in 2010, but the Supreme Court is still trying to sort out matters regarding who the new law applies to. The FSA was designed to make crack-cocaine sentences more fair than they already were. While the law didn’t make crack sentences the same as those for powder cocaine, it did reduce the discrepancy. This week, the Supreme Court ruled the FSA standards apply to a group of crack offenders that were waiting in limbo.

According to the blog of the ACLU, the opinion, passed down just last week, says that the Fair Sentencing Act applies to those people who were accused of crack-offenses that occurred before the passage of the law, but who weren’t sentenced until after the law was passed.

Before the FSA, crack cocaine was sentenced at a rate of 100:1 when compared with powder cocaine. In other words, a conviction for 5 grams of crack would get you the same sentence as a conviction for 500 grams of powder cocaine. The problem with this is that the justification for such a disparity was founded in flawed science. Also, the laws resulted in significantly harsher penalties for black offenders.

A truly “fair” sentencing act would have completely done away with the disparity, having a 1:1 ratio rather than a 1:100 ration. That didn’t happen, however. The FSA reduced the ratio to 1:18, a significant improvement, but still not “fair”.

Some argued that the FSA should only apply to those whose offenses occurred after the act was passed. While others said it should be retroactive to anyone convicted on a federal crack offense.

The Supreme Court took a step in the right direction by affirming it can apply to those whose offenses happened before the FSA was passed but whose sentences were handed down after.

In response to the ruling, ACLU Legal Director Steven R. Shapiro had this to say:

“We are gratified by today’s ruling that the Fair Sentencing Act applies to all people sentenced after its passage. This decision upholds the Act’s self-proclaimed objective to ‘restore fairness to Federal cocaine sentencing’ and end a legacy of racial discrimination in criminal sentencing. The FSA was designed to eliminate racial discrimination, not perpetuate it.”

The FSA applies to federal crack offenses. Each state still has their own laws in regards to what constitutes a crack offense and what sentence such an offense deserves. If you are charged with possession of crack cocaine or even sale of a controlled substance, we may be able to put you in touch with an attorney that can help.

About David Matson

David writes about criminal justice issues.
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