A Crack in New Crack Sentencing Law

April 19, 2011  |  

(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.

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