House Introduces Bill Allowing Challenges Of Unfair Crack Cocaine Sentences

December 17, 2010 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – An important bill introduced today by Rep. Robert Scott (D-VA), the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act, would allow those sentenced to prison under outdated crack cocaine sentencing guidelines to petition for shorter sentences. The crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity, which falls disproportionately on African-Americans, was lowered from 100:1 to 18:1 this year by passage of the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA). The FSA was signed into law by President Obama on August 3.

Under the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act, the sentencing guidelines of the FSA would apply to cases or offenses committed before August 3 for which a sentence has not yet been imposed. The bill would also allow those currently incarcerated for possession of crack cocaine to submit motions to have their sentences reduced to a term of imprisonment consistent with the FSA.

The following can be attributed to Laura W. Murphy, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office:

“By giving those serving excessive sentences for crack cocaine a tool to fight their incarceration, this bill will help to finish the work started by the Fair Sentencing Act. While this bill is a much needed added step toward righting the wrong of our drug sentencing laws, a sizeable sentencing gap still remains. Congress should close that gap and move to guarantee that others sentenced under unfair and outdated guidelines have a chance to challenge their sentences. Congress must ensure our justice system is based on fact and fairness, not injustice.”

Unfortunately, the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act would not address the case of ACLU client Hamedah Hasan, who is serving a pre-FSA crack cocaine sentence, because the new 18:1 sentencing ratio does not affect all sentences under the complicated guidelines system. A mother and grandmother serving the 17th year of a 27-year federal prison sentence for a first-time, non-violent crack cocaine conviction, Hasan would be released by now had she been convicted of a powder cocaine offense. Under the new 18:1 sentencing disparity, her sentence will remain unchanged; a ratio of 1:1, by contrast, would have resulted in her release. Hasan has filed a petition with the Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney asking that President Obama commute her remaining sentence.

To learn more about the effort to commute Hamedah Hasan’s sentence, go to:

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