ACLU Joins Representative Jackson-Lee’s Call for Sentencing Fix

December 18, 2007 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union today joined Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) at a press conference calling for a fix to the unfair federal crack cocaine sentencing policy. The ACLU also urged Congress to support Rep. Jackson-Lee’s recently introduced legislation, H.R. 4545, the “Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007.” This bill would eliminate sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine as well as the current mandatory minimum for simple possession. In addition, the legislation establishes grants for drug treatment programs, gives the U.S. Sentencing Commission discretion to review sentencing enhancements for crack offenses, and attempts to focus federal resources on major drug dealers.

“Rep. Jackson-Lee’s legislation will finally correct a more than 20-year-old disparity in crack versus powder cocaine sentencing,” said ACLU Legislative Counsel Jesselyn McCurdy. “We urge Rep. Jackson-Lee’s colleagues in the House to support this legislation and schedule hearings on the bill. The federal drug sentencing laws have been out of balance for two decades, and this bill gives us the chance to even the scales. 2008 is the year for Congress to correct this injustice in the criminal justice system.”

Just last week, the Supreme Court ruled that judges could issue lighter sentences than the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s guidelines in crack cocaine cases. And in November, the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s new crack cocaine sentencing guidelines went into effect, recommending reduced sentences for crack offenses as a step to even out the disparity.

“The Supreme Court and U.S. Sentencing Commission did not make decisions about this disparity in a vacuum – they made the decision to lessen this disparity because it is clearly and profoundly unfair,” McCurdy added. “But real change – and real justice – can only come if Congress acts now to right these wrongs.”

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