ACLU Praises USSC for Change to Federal Drug Sentencing Guidelines

November 1, 2007

Fairness and consistency in sentencing now require such changes be applied retroactively

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: media@dcaclu.org

Washington, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union today praised the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) for taking action to bring the guideline ranges for crack cocaine federal sentences back in line with the mandatory minimum statute. As a result of the previous guidelines, crack cocaine defendants sentenced to the mandatory minimums often served many more months than required by the law for their offense.

The ACLU now calls upon the USSC to make such changes retroactive, joining a growing chorus of organizations and individuals who believe such changes are an important step toward parity and justice in cocaine sentencing.

"A retroactive change in the guidelines would offer relief to thousands of defendants who, because of the inconsistency caused by the sentencing guidelines, received sentences higher than the mandatory minimum," said Jesselyn McCurdy, legislative counsel for the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "For the sake of consistency and basic fairness under the law, this change must be retroactive.

"There is a widespread perception, particularly in African-American communities, of racial bias within the criminal justice system. For example, drug sentencing guidelines impacting other racial groups, such as those involving LSD, marijuana, and oxycodone, have been made retroactive by the commission in the past. Such perceptions of racial bias would only be magnified if corrected sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses aren't also made retroactive."

Neither the new guidelines nor their retroactivity will impact the statutory 100-to-1 quantity disparity between crack and powder cocaine, identified by the USSC as the "single most important" factor accounting for longer sentences imposed on African-Americans relative to other racial groups. The ball is in Congress’ court to make the statutory fix, and the USSC has expressed its firm desire "for prompt congressional action." As an interim measure, however, making the USSC’s proposed guidelines retroactive would be a significant step towards correcting over two decades of injustice in cocaine sentencing.

Statistics image