Obama (Passively) Wants Parity for Crack Sentencing
This morning’s Senate panel hearing on the wide discrepancy between sentencing for crack and powder cocaine-related crimes offered the Obama administration its first official opportunity to weigh in on the contentious issue. And while the White House announced its support for closing the gap, it also appears to be leaving Congress with the sole responsibility for doing it. From the written testimony of newly confirmed Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer:
[T]his Administration believes that the current federal cocaine sentencing structure fails to appropriately reflect the differences and similarities between crack and powder cocaine, the offenses involving each form of the drug, and the goal of sentencing serious and major traffickers to significant prison sentences. We believe the structure is especially problematic because a growing number of citizens view it as fundamentally unfair. The Administration believes Congress’s goal should be to completely eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine.
Under current federal law, possession of five grams of crack cocaine with an intent to distribute carries a mandatory five year sentence. But for powder cocaine, it requires possession of at least 500 grams with an intent to distribute to get the same five year sentence. At the time the laws were passed in the mid 1980s, the thinking was that crack cocaine was more closely linked to violent crime. But it also happens to be used disproportionately by blacks and Hispanics.
President Obama campaigned on a platform of ending the sentencing disparity. This is the first step; now Congress stands at bat.