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Miami Police Chief John Timoney Urges End to Fed Law Disparity Between Crack and Powdered Cocaine

Chief John F. Timoney

Chief John F. Timoney

BY JOHN F. TIMONEY
Miami Police Chief
For the Miami Herald
MIAMI — Most people in the criminal-justice system are aware of a problem with the federal laws governing sentences for cocaine offenses — penalties for crack-cocaine offenses are much stiffer than sentences for powder cocaine. This undermines trust in the criminal-justice system, and it has strong racial effects unhealthy to our society.

The federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 created a mandatory five-year prison term for offenses involving five grams of crack. But an offender must have 100 times as much powder cocaine to trigger the same five-year sentence.

If I grab a guy carrying five grams of crack, less than a fifth of an ounce, I figure this is a low-level drug dealer, or maybe someone with a lot for his own consumption. If I arrest a guy with 500 grams of powder cocaine, more than a pound, I figure this is a trafficker. Yet the federal law set the same penalty for both.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, a panel that Congress created in 1984 to write sentencing guidelines for federal judges to make sentences fairer and more uniform, for years urged Congress to amend cocaine laws to reduce that 100-to-1 disparity.

In 2007, the Commission took some limited action to decrease the sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses and made the changes retroactive. The Commission said the sentencing system for cocaine offenses had come under ”almost universal criticism” from judges, criminal-justice officials, academics and community
groups.

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