Thirteen States Maintain Crack-Powder Sentencing Disparities


Now that Congress has reduced the disparity in mandatory federal sentences for crack and powder cocaine offenses, the Washington, D.C.,-based advocacy group The Sentencing Project reports that 13 states maintain sentencing disparities in their own drug laws. In Missouri, a defendant convicted of selling six grams of crack faces the same prison term –a ten-year mandatory minimum – as someone who sells 450 grams of powder cocaine, or 75 times that amount. In Oklahoma, with a 6-to-1 quantity-based sentencing disparity, a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence is triggered for five grams of crack cocaine and 28 grams of powder cocaine.

In Arizona, with a 12-to-1 disparity, nine grams of powder cocaine or less than a gram of crack cocaine trigger five-year prison terms for trafficking offenses. Penalties like these contribute to overcrowding in state prisons, says the organization. It says that fiscal pressure to tighten state corrections budgets, along with evidence that the crack-powder disparity is “unfair and unwarranted,” suggests that lawmakers should reexamine the sentencing differentials, the project contends.

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