Repeated efforts to eliminate the two-decade-old disparity in prison sentences between powder and crack cocaine have foundered for years. Now, emboldened by newfound independence under the Supreme Court decision that made federal sentencing guidelines advisory, a few federal judges have begun to roll back potential crack sentences, reports the National Law Journal. In 1986, Congress set prison terms for crack-related crimes 100 times greater than for the same amount of powder cocaine.
What has emerged among recent court rulings are expressions by some jurists that a more reasonable ratio would be a 20-to-1 difference between crack and powder cocaine. In one case last month, a federal judge in Rhode Island cut a recommended sentence of 15 to 20 years under the guidelines to the minimum 10 years for a man convicted of possessing five grams of crack within 1,000 feet of a school. In West Virginia, Nebraska, New York, and Florida, federal judges have issued reductions from sentencing guideline ranges or urged Congress to reduce the disparity. Several of them have said that the 20-to-1 ratio of crack to powder cocaine is more appropriate. Such rulings could anger those in Congress who perceive judges as ignoring the will of lawmakers.