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Clarke Votes to Address Crack and Cocaine Sentencing Disparities


House Passes the Fair Sentencing Act

Today, the House of Representatives passed S. 1789, the Fair Sentencing Act. This legislation reduces the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and increases criminal penalties for serious drug offenders. Rep. Yvette D. Clarke released the following statement:

“Crack and powder cocaine have a devastating effect on Brooklyn families and our communities. Tough anti-cocaine legislation is needed, but the law must also be fair. Under current federal law, possessing five grams of crack cocaine is subject to the same mandatory minimum sentence as selling 500 grams of powder cocaine,” stated Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke. “African-Americans in Brooklyn and across the country make up a minority of crack users but account for about 80 percent of those convicted under the mandatory sentencing statute. This racially discriminatory application of the law and the impact of this policy are not consistent with our nation’s commitment to equal justice under the law. The mandatory sentence has pushed drug policy in the wrong direction, imprisoning addicts who should have been sent to treatment programs.”

“That is why I am a cosponsor of H.R. 265, the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2009 and H.R. 3245, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act. These bills are similar to S. 1789, Fair Sentencing Act, which passed the House by voice vote today. This bipartisan bill reduces the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and significantly increases criminal penalties for serious drug offenders,” said Clarke.

Specifically, the bill will:

•Reduce the ratio between crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1;
•Eliminate the simple possession mandatory minimum (5 years for 5 grams without intent to distribute);
•Significantly increase fines for convicted major drug traffickers;
•Direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to increase penalties for individuals convicted of aggravating offenses, including bribery of a law enforcement officer in connection with an underlying offense; and
•Direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to allow a sentence reduction in very limited cases, including where a person was motivated by an intimate or familial relationship or by threats or fear when the defendant was otherwise unlikely to commit such an offense (often referred to as the “girlfriend problem”).

A broad bipartisan group of criminal justice experts, law enforcement organizations, and policymakers has concluded the current 100:1 disparity cannot be justified. Organizations endorsing reform include: the NAACP; Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; American Bar Association; American Civil Liberties Union; the National District Attorneys Association; Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association; National Association of Evangelicals; Prison Fellowship; the International Union of Police Associations; and dozens of former federal prosecutors and judges.

“I am proud to stand along with these groups on the side of my constituents and the many New Yorkers that have been unfairly impacted by the mandatory sentence disparity. I urge president Obama to sign this important legislation into law today,” concluded Rep. Clarke.