Crack-Powder Penalties Debated Again In Court, Congress


The 100-to-1 disparity in crack and powder cocaine sentences is under attack again. A person caught with 5 grams of crack cocaine – the equivalent of five Sweet ‘N Low packets – gets a mandatory minimum of five years in federal prison. It takes 500 grams of powder cocaine – more than a one-pound bag of Domino Sugar – to merit that same punishment, notes the Houston Chronicle. For the first time in about two decades, U.S. lawmakers have introduced a flurry of legislation to create a fair and uniform federal sentencing structure for both forms of the drug.

Next month, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Derrick Kimbrough, a black veteran of the first Gulf War. He received a 15-year prison sentence from a federal judge for dealing crack and powder cocaine and possession of a firearm in Virginia. Sentencing guidelines required a much longer sentence. An appeals court ruled that judges can’t impose sentences shorter than the guidelines just because they don’t agree with the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses. The Supreme Court will decide if judges are bound by the sentencing requirements. It has been 21 years since Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act that created mandatory penalties for federal drug offenses, Washington’s get-tough response to the crack epidemic of the 1980s.


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