30 Federal Judges Decry Lack of Retroactivity In Crack Penalty Law


Many in the federal judiciary are rebelling against the application of a new law addressing the sentences for people convicted of selling crack cocaine, says the New York Times. The Fair Sentencing Act or 2010 narrowed the vast gap between penalties for crimes involving crack and powder cocaine. The law seems to reduce sentences only for offenses committed after it went into effect in August. The usual rule is that laws do not apply retroactively unless Congress says so, and here Congress said nothing.

That seems to mean that hundreds and perhaps thousands of defendants who committed crack-related crimes before August will still face very harsh sentences. About 30 federal trial judges have protested that result. The only appeals court to directly address the question so far, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, said only Congress could apply the new standards to old cases. “We have sympathy,” Judge Terence Evans wrote, “for the two defendants here, who lost on a temporal roll of the cosmic dice and were sentenced under a structure which has now been recognized as unfair.”

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