Appeals Court Says Fair Sentencing Act Applies Retroactively
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WASHINGTON — The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 should apply to all defendants, including those sentenced prior to its passage, according to a decision issued by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals today. The FSA reduced the sentencing disparity between offenses for crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1.
"This decision could make a real difference in the lives of men and women currently serving needlessly cruel and very long mandatory minimum sentences for what are often low-level, non-violent drug offenses," said Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office. "The Fair Sentencing Act and its retroactive application are important steps toward ending our country's misguided, ineffective, and harmful war on drugs. However, while we are celebrating this landmark decision for racial justice, we must not lose sight of our ultimate goal to remove all disparities between crack and powder cocaine sentencing."
In its decision, the court described old crack sentencing laws as "racially discriminatory" and argued that continuing to apply them to defendants violates the Equal Protection Clause. Heightened penalties for crack cocaine were adopted decades ago, based on assumptions about crack that are now known to be false. The single feature that most distinguishes a crack cocaine arrestee from a powder cocaine arrestee is skin color. Crack arrestees are far more likely to be Black than white, even though the majority of crack users are white.