US sentencing panel backs retroactive reduced penalties for crack cocaine crimes News
US sentencing panel backs retroactive reduced penalties for crack cocaine crimes

[JURIST] The US Sentencing Commission [official website] voted unanimously Tuesday to give retroactive effect to an earlier amendment to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines [USSC materials] that will reduce penalties for crack cocaine offenders [press release]. The amendment, which took effect November 1, was intended to narrow the disparity between sentences for powder and crack cocaine offenses. Under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, the Sentencing Commission is authorized to retroactively apply amendments to the Guidelines that reduce penalties for classes of offenses or offenders. As outlined in the Commission's vote, the final decision whether and how much to reduce a crack cocaine offender's sentence will rest with a federal sentencing judge, who will weigh public safety concerns. Retroactivity will take effect on March 3, 2008. AP has more.

Under the current federal sentencing guidelines, one gram of crack cocaine is treated the same as 100 grams of powder cocaine, leaving crack cocaine dealers to face much harsher sentences. On Monday, the US Supreme Court overturned a federal appeals court ruling [JURIST report] on whether a federal judge has discretion to sentence a defendant to a prison term less than what is recommended by federal guidelines when the lower sentence "is based on a disagreement with the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses." US District Judge Raymond A. Jackson had sentenced crack and powder cocaine dealer Derrick Kimbrough to 15 years in prison, despite the 19- to 22-year standard found in the Federal Guidelines. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated Kimbrough's lesser sentence [opinion, PDF] and remanded for resentencing, holding that the lower than recommended sentence was per se unreasonable as it was based on the judge's disagreement with the sentencing disparity. The Supreme Court reversed [opinion text], ruling that the appeals court erred in holding that the sentencing disparity was effectively mandatory.