NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Divided Federal Court Rules Crack Cocaine Sentencing Reforms Do Not Apply To Those Already in Prison
Today, a sharply divided Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), which reduced the unfair, unjustified, and racially discriminatory crack cocaine/powder cocaine sentencing ratio from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1, does not apply to thousands of individuals who are currently incarcerated pursuant to sentences imposed under the discredited 100-to-1 regime. Seven judges concluded that the FSA should apply to those serving sentences under the 100-to-1 federal sentencing structure, and ten judges declared that it should not.
“We are deeply disappointed in the outcome of this case. Thousands of people, the majority of whom are African-American, are still serving time under an unfair drug sentencing regime that has destroyed individuals, families and communities. Today’s decision demonstrates that those who are working to eliminate the impermissible role of race in criminal prosecutions and sentences still have much more work to do. We will continue to press this issue in the court,” said Sherrilyn A. Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., a leading civil rights law firm and a separate entity from the NAACP…
In 2010, Congress passed the FSA to reduce the irrationality and unfairness occasioned by a federal sentencing structure under which 100 grams of powder cocaine triggered the same sentence as a single gram of crack cocaine. Congress made this change in recognition of the fact that powder cocaine and crack are indistinguishable from one another and the fact that the law was imposed in starkly racially disproportionate ways. Indeed, Judge Karen Nelson Moore, who joined the majority and concluded that the law does not apply to those who are already serving 100-to-1 prison sentences, acknowledged that the 100-to-1 ratio “led to the mass incarceration of African-American men and has bred distrust of law enforcement in the larger African-American community.” Nationwide, nearly 9,000 individuals—90% of whom are African American–are serving out sentences imposed on them under the 100-to-1 ratio.
From United States v. Blewett et al, Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals:
I In 2005, a federal court convicted cousins Cornelius Blewett and Jarreous Blewitt (the Blewetts) of possessing crack cocaine with the intent to distribute it. Neither side contests that Cornelius had 19.65 grams and Jarreous 26.92 grams. Under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, those amounts normally would have produced a 5-year minimum sentence. But because the Blewetts each had a prior felony drug conviction, the Act doubled the minimum. See 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b), 851. The court sentenced each cousin to 10 years, the lowest sentence possible under the law.After Congress enacted the Fair Sentencing Act, the Blewetts moved for a sentence reduction. See18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). The Blewetts’ 19.65 and 26.92 grams of crack cocaine fall short of the 28 grams required for the Fair Sentencing Act’s new mandatory minimums to kick in. As a result, the Blewetts claimed that, even though they were sentenced before the Fair Sentencing Act took effect, they should benefit from Congress’s reduction of the statutory penalties. The district court denied their request.The Blewetts appealed. While the appeal was pending, Jarreous’s prison sentence (though not his term of superviserelease) ended, prompting the government to ask us to dismiss his appeal as moot. Because we no doubt have jurisdiction over one of the defendants in this consolidated app eal, we need not resolve the motion and may proceed to answer the merits question presented by this appeal.