All Articles Tagged "crack"
Last year,President Obama signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which sought to institute a more rational approach to drug policy by scaling back the harsh mandatory sentences for federal crack cocaine offenses. The new law modifies the 25-year-old statute that has sent thousands of African Americans to prison for crack cocaine convictions while giving lesser sentences to whites arrested with the same amount of cocaine in powder form. Those convicted of possessing five grams of crack-cocaine under this new law could now expect an average two-year sentence reduction from the five years mandatory sentence. That is, of course, if you qualify.
As welcome as the reforms are, the new change will only benefit about new 3,000 cases a year and 12,000 people, who have already been convicted of drug offenses. Moreover, much of the law still leaves in place the broad structure of mandatory sentencing for most non-drug offenses, which sometimes accompany those arrested for drug offenses. Things like mandatory gun sentencing, three-strike laws and the ever-obscure school-zone drug laws all involve stiff penalties, which means that those prosecuted could receive an unfair and long sentencing for even the most minor of drug offenses.
Take for instance, the case of Reynolds Wintersmith, a Illinois resident whose first time drug arrest in 1994 at 17-years of age led him to a federal life sentence. It was a mandatory sentence that troubled even the judge, who questioned if lawmakers really intended this kind of outcome for someone so young. Although the Fair Sentencing Act applied to all defendants sentenced after that date, regardless of when the criminal conduct occurred, Wintersmith’s drug case did not qualify for sentencing reduction because of the way in which his case was prosecuted.
Although Wintersmith was a street dealer, his case was bundled into a larger drug conspiracy case involving the entire network of the Gangster Disciples. The bundling meant that Wintersmith was among several others to be held accountable for being a leader in the gang, using weapons to protect its drug trade and pushing large quantities of cocaine and crack on the street. It all added up to mandatory life, a sentence in which the original judge had no wiggle room to exercise leniency and in which the appellate courts no cause to hear his case.
Courts are using this gray area of the law to get around the new required sentencing guidelines. Take for instance the case of Felix Booker, who was nabbed earlier this year in Tennessee with 10.2 grams of crack cocaine hidden inside of him. Although an original search of Booker at the time of his arrest, yielded only a small quantity of marijuana, authorities, on suspicion that Booker was hiding drugs in unseen places, used a life-threatening medical procedure, which caused temporary paralysis, to physically extract the drugs out of his body. Questions about violation of his 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizures aside, the federal court still sentenced Booker to a mandatory prison term for five years because he was convicted before the Fair Sentencing Act was passed but not yet sentenced.
There are currently two others bill before Congress, which seek to clarify the original Fair Sentencing Act including the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act of 2011, which, if it passes, would make the new guidelines for mandatory minimums, another exemption from the original law, retroactive. There is also the bipartisan supported Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2011, which seeks to totally eliminate the disparity between powder and crack cocaine sentences (The Fair Sentencing Act only reduced the disparity down from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1). However, both of these bills have languished in Congress and the second bill is not even retroactive, which means that we might see another bill just to correct the inequalities in this clarifying bill. And so goes Congress. If anything, this patchwork effort to correct drug sentencing laws further seek to illustrate just how decriminalization of drugs, in any regards, will never be a full substitution for legalization.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.
(Wall Street Journal) — Frustrated by the high relapse rate of traditional addiction treatments, scientists are working on a strategy that recruits the body’s own defenses to help addicts kick drug habits. The new approach uses injected vaccines to block some addictive substances from reaching the brain. If a vaccinated addict on the path to recovery slips and indulges in a drug, such as tobacco or cocaine, no pleasure will result. ”You still have to mentally say to yourself, ‘I’m not going to do this,’ but it’s so much easier to say it when you know if you light a cigarette, you’re not going to get any pleasure out of it,” says Stephen Ballou, a 56-year-old banker who got a nicotine vaccine in a 2007 clinical trial to help kick his pack-a-day habit. He says he hasn’t smoked since. Some medications currently available to treat addictions typically work by mimicking a drug in the brain. For example, methadone stands in for heroin and the nicotine patch for cigarettes. Other medications block activity in the brain’s reward system. Alkermes Inc.’s once-monthly Vivitrol injection does this for alcoholics and opioid addicts, while PfizerInc.’s Chantix pills block the brain’s pleasure receptors activated when people smoke.
(New York Times) — The federal judiciary is in something like open rebellion over a new law addressing the sentences to be meted out to people convicted of selling crack cocaine. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, a judge in Massachusetts said he found it “unendurable” to have to impose sentences that are “both unjust and racist.” The new law, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, narrowed the vast gap between penalties for crimes involving crack and powder cocaine, a development many judges welcomed. But it turns out that the law may have been misnamed. “The Not Quite as Fair as it could be Sentencing Act of 2010 (NQFSA) would be a bit more descriptive,” a federal appeals court judge in Chicago wrote last month. The problem is that the law seems to reduce sentences only for offenses committed after it went into effect in August. The usual rule is that laws do not apply retroactively unless Congress says so, and here Congress said nothing. That seems to mean that hundreds and perhaps thousands of defendants who committed crack-related crimes before August will still face very harsh sentences.
By Danielle Kwateng
Although many believe the country has not changed much in the past fifty years, there have been several laws that counter those arguments. From affirmative action policies to voting rights ordinances to drug laws, these 11 policies have changed and impacted the African-American community for better or for worse.
Additional Reporting by De’Juan Galloway