DOJ Moves To End Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentenncing Disparities

  • AG Merrick Garland moved Friday to end the disparities in sentencing for cocaine-related crimes.
  • The stark differences in sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine-related offenses and powder cocaine-related offenses are stark.
  • Garland informed federal prosecutors in a memo that the disparity is not supported by science.

Friday’s action by US Attorney General Merrick Garland to end sentencing inequalities that have resulted in sharply different penalties for individuals convicted of crack and power-cocaine related crimes was a major victory for the United States.

In a memoGarland informed federal prosecutors that Garland believed the disparity was not supported by science, and that there were no significant pharmacological differences among the drugs.

The current law provides for a mandatory five-year sentence for offenses involving 28g of crack cocaine and the same sentence would be given to offenses involving 500g of powder cocaine.

The disparities have led to a disproportionate number of Black individuals being convicted of crack-related offenses compared to White defendants — according to the US Sentencing Commission — an issue that advocates have sought to reform for decades in tackling the nation’s drug laws.

Nearly 78 percent of those convicted of trafficking crack cocaine in 2021 were Black, while 15% of traffickers were Hispanic, and 6% were white.

In comparisonNearly 67 per cent of people convicted for trafficking powder cocaine that year were Hispanic, 25 percent were Black, and approximately 7 percent were White.

The revised policy will be in effect within 30 days. It will modify the requirements for minimum sentences for crack-related convictions.

The memo instructs prosecutors not to ignore violence in the crime. They also need to consider whether individuals played a significant managerial role in trafficking large quantities of drugs and whether they are part in a cartel.

Civil-rights groups have long called for such changes, pointing out the detrimental effects sentencing guidelines have had for Black Americans.

“The sentencing gap between crack cocaine and powder cocaine serves one purpose: to send Black Americans to jail. In a statement, Derrick Johnson, President of NAACP, stated that this was it. “There is no scientific basis for prosecuting crack and powder offenses differently and sendingencing them differently. It does not make our communities more secure and was used only to lock our community into prison in the failed War on Drugs.

Johnson said that Garland’s announcement “is yet another step toward restoring faith and belief in the criminal justice system of Black Americans.”

Garland’s memo also stated in his memo that the Department of Justice supported the Equal Act, which would eliminate the crack-to–powder sentencing disparity at the federal level.

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