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Public Statements

Statements On Introduced Bills And Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, D.C.


Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President. I have sought recognition to urge support for the legislation introduced today by Senator Durbin to completely eliminate the unfair and unwarranted sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. I am an original co-sponsor of this bill.

Since the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which established the basic framework of mandatory minimum penalties currently applicable to Federal drug trafficking offenses, there exists a 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine. That means it takes 100 times as much powder cocaine as crack to trigger the same 5-year and 10-year mandatory minimum penalties.

On April 29, 2009, 6 witnesses testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs regarding the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, including the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice, the Acting Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a U.S. District Court Judge representing the Judicial Conference of the U.S. Courts, and a Police Commissioner from a major urban city. All six witnesses testified in favor of an immediate reduction or elimination of this disparity.

At the time Congress established the crack-powder disparity in 1986, it did so because it was believed that crack was uniquely addictive and was associated with greater levels of violence than powder cocaine.

Today, more than 20 years later, research has shown that the addictive qualities of crack have more to do with its mode of administration--smoking compared to inhaling--rather than its chemical structure. Moreover, recent studies suggest that levels of violence associated with crack are stable or even declining.

Last year, 80.6 percent of crack offenders were African Americans, while only 10.2 percent were white. Compare that with powder cocaine prosecutions. For that same year, 30.25 percent of powder cocaine offenders were African Americans, 52.5 percent were Hispanic, and 16.4 percent were white. The average sentence for crack offenders is 2 years longer than the average sentence for powder cocaine.

Let me repeat that. African Americans, who make up approximately 12.3 percent of the population in the U.S., comprise 80.6 percent of the Federal crack offenders.

It takes about $14,000 worth of powder cocaine compared to only about $150 of crack to trigger the 5-year mandatory minimum penalty. Given that crack and cocaine powder are the same drug--just in different forms--why should we impose the same 5-year sentence for the $150 drug deal as for the $14,000 drug deal?

These sentencing disparities undermine the confidence in the criminal justice system. Our courts and our laws must be fundamentally fair; just as importantly, they must be perceived as fair by the public. I do not believe that the 1986 Act was intended to have a disparate impact on minorities but the reality is that it does.

The White House and the Department of Justice have asked Congress to eliminate this unfair sentencing disparity. It is time to correct this injustice.


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