Crack cocaine guidelines harsh, racially unfair
Washington, DC (March 18, 2002) --Testimony to be presented to the United States Sentencing Commission by National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers President Irwin Schwartz calls crack cocaine sentencing guidelines "egregiously harsh" and cites statistics which show that 93% of crack cocaine defendants are African-American or Hispanic.
Schwartz, a criminal defense lawyer from Seattle, will testify during hearings before the Sentencing Commission from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19, 2002.
According to Schwartz' written statement, the average crack cocaine sentence of 119.5 months is 55% longer than that for powder cocaine, and is unmatched by that for any other drug. For instance, Sylvia Foster, of Gainesville, FL, was sentenced to more than twenty years for peripheral involvement in her boyfriend's crack cocaine dealing, an example of, as one court characterized it, the "tiger trap" of crack sentencing laws being "sprung on a sick kitten."
Statistics cited in the testimony point to the unfairness of the 100:1 weight ratio for a five-year minimum sentence for crack versus powder cocaine. The five grams of crack cocaine required to trigger the five-year minimum result in 10-50 doses, for a street value of $225-$750, while the 500 grams of powder cocaine equate with 2500-5000 doses, with a street value of $32,500-$50,000; one result is that 66.5% of crack cocaine defendants are street-level dealers.
Legislation previously passed by Congress requires that crack cocaine sentencing be comparatively harsher overall than that for powder cocaine; NACDL proposes a combination of 1:1 ratios for street-level dealers and 2:1 ratios for mid- and high-level dealers.
Others testifying at the hearing include Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU''s Washington office, and Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, a former member of NACDL.
Schwartz can be reached at (206) 623-5084 (office). Click here for testimony online.
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.