Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Sort of Civil Rights Victory

In a 7-2 opinion by Justice Ginsburg handed down yesterday morning, the Supreme Court rebuked the draconian federal guidelines to consider the disparity in treatment between crack and powder cocaine. From the NY Times;

In two decisions, the court said federal district judges had broad discretion to impose what they think are reasonable sentences, even if federal guidelines call for different sentences.

One decision was particularly emphatic in saying judges are free to disagree with guidelines that call for much longer sentences for offenses involving crack cocaine than for crimes involving an equivalent amount of cocaine in powdered form.

The bipartisan U.S. Sentencing Commission reported; (via Daily Kos)
[T]he Commission concluded that the crack/powder disparity is inconsistent with the 1986 Act’s goal of punishing major drug traffickers more severely than low-level dealers. Drug importers and major traffickers generally deal in powder cocaine, which is then converted into crack by street-level sellers. ... But the 100-to-1 ratio can lead to the "anomalous" result that "retail crack dealers get longer sentences than the wholesale drug distributors who supply them the powder cocaine from which their crack is produced."

Finally, the Commission stated that the crack/powder sentencing differential "fosters disrespect for and lack of confidence in the criminal justice system" because of a "widely-held perception" that it "promotes unwarranted disparity based on race." [] 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."