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Senator Biden Commends U.S. Sentencing Commission for Addressing Disparities in Crack/Cocaine Penalties

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Location: Washington, DC


Senator Biden Commends U.S. Sentencing Commission for Addressing Disparities in Crack/Cocaine Penalties

U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, commended the U.S. Sentencing Commission today for urging Congress to address the disparity in the current statutory structure for cocaine sentencing.

"Over twenty years ago, Congress enacted a sentencing scheme that punishes crack cocaine offenses far more severely than powder cocaine offenses," said Sen. Biden. "But as the Sentencing Commission said - this is a terrible flaw in the criminal justice system, based on the bogus notions that the crack form of cocaine is inherently more addictive than the powder form and crack users are more violent than powder users. That logic just hasn't played out."

Currently, it takes 100 times more powder cocaine than crack to trigger the five- and ten-year mandatory minimum sentences under federal law. In other words, powder cocaine offenders who traffic 500 grams of powder (2,500-5,000 doses) receive the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as crack cocaine offenders who possess just 5 grams of crack (10-50 doses). This disparity doesn't just apply to the mandatory minimum quantities, but it permeates the Sentencing Guidelines for cocaine trafficking offenses in amounts above and below the mandatory minimum thresholds.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission issued a report that "unanimously and strongly urge[d]" Congress to: (1) act swiftly to increase the threshold quantities of crack necessary to trigger the five- and ten-year mandatory minimum sentences, so that federal resources are focused on major drug traffickers as intended in the original 1986 legislation; and (2) repeal the mandatory minimum penalty sentence for simple possession of crack, the only controlled substance for which there is a mandatory minimum for a first time offense of simple possession. The Sentencing Commission also unanimously rejected any effort to increase the penalties for powder since there is no evidence to justify any such upward adjustment.

"This 100:1 disparity is unjust, unfair, and the time has long past for it to be undone," Senator Biden explained.

"The current sentencing disparity between the two forms of cocaine is based on false notions and old logic," said Sen. Biden. "Congress has ignored this issue for too long. I intend to introduce legislation to remedy the disparity and refocus the federal cocaine sentencing laws and federal resources on major drug kingpins, as was the intent of the 1986 law. I look forward to working with my colleagues - Republicans and Democrats - and urge them to support righting this wrong."

This report marks the fourth time since 1995 that the Sentencing Commission has called on Congress to address this sentencing disparity. The current federal cocaine sentencing structure, according to the report, "continues to come under almost universal criticism from representatives of the Judiciary, criminal justice practitioners, academics, and community interest groups....[T]he Commission maintains its consistently held position that the 100-to-1 drug quantity ratio significantly undermines the various congressional objectives set forth in the Sentencing Reform Act."

The U.S. Sentencing Commission is a bipartisan, independent agency under the judicial branch created by Congress in 1984 as part of the Sentencing Reform Act. The Commission works to establish sentencing policies and practices for the federal criminal justice community. To view the entire report, please click here: http://www.ussc.gov/r_congress/cocaine2007.pdf.


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