Federal judges are beginning to equalize punishment for crack and powder cocaine crimes, resulting in shorter prison terms for crack dealers and putting pressure on Congress to address a wide disparity in how the legal system handles cocaine-related offenses, the Washington Post reports. A federal judge in Washington, D.C., and one in Iowa said they had policy differences with Congress and a judicial commission that they said did not go far enough to change the guidelines for crack sentences in 2007.
From now on, the judges wrote, they will calculate sentences for crack offenders by using the more-lenient sentencing guidelines for powder cocaine crimes. “The decisions are a very big deal, especially if they start a trend,” said Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor. “The fact that judges are doing this, and doing it vocally, shows they are frustrated. And it’s garnering attention and could be the catalyst for Congress to act.” Rep. Robert Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the Judiciary crime subcommittee, said he expects legislation on crack sentences by year’s end.