Crack Cocaine Mandatory Minimum Sentences

 In 2010, the U.S. Congress passed historic, bipartisan legislation repealing a mandatory minimum sentence for the first time since the Nixon Administration and reforming the infamous 100-to-one ratio between powder cocaine and crack cocaine.  FAMM supported that reform, the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), which lowered the 100-to-one ratio to 18-to-one and abolished a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine.  The law produces fairer sentences for approximately 3,000 federal crack offenders each year. 

In response to the reform, the U.S. Sentencing Commission altered the crack cocaine sentencing guidelines to reflect the new 18-to-one ratio, and it made these guideline changes retroactive.  Over 22,000 people received sentence reductions based on the retroactive crack guidelines.

The Problem: The FSA was a compromise measure that did not correct all the injustices of the crack-powder disparity.  The FSA’s alterations to crack mandatory minimum sentences were not made retroactive – something only Congress can do.  This has left thousands of federal crack cocaine offenders in prison today serving mandatory minimum terms that Congress, the President, and the country have now repudiated as unfair and racially discriminatory.  Additionally, the FSA’s 18-to-one ratio does not reflect the fact that crack and powder cocaine are the same drug in different forms, and that crack cocaine crimes are still punished more harshly than powder cocaine offenses. 

Solutions:

  1. Make the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive, so that it applies to all federal prisoners still serving mandatory minimum sentences under the old, 100-to-1 ratio
  2. Reform the crack-powder cocaine mandatory minimum sentences to reflect a ratio of 1-to-1, rather than 18-to-1.

Pending Bills:  

S. 1410: Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013

Bill text: To read the full text of the bill, click here.

Bill progress: To track the progress of the bill, click here.

Summary: If passed, the bill would apply the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactively, reduce the lengths of some federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, and slightly expand the “safety valve” to apply to more nonviolent federal drug offenders.  FAMM supports this bill.

THE BILL IS NOT A LAW. We do not know if or when the SSA will become a law. Before it can become a law, the bill must be passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by the President. This could take a long time, or it may never happen. Each year, thousands of bills are introduced in Congress, but very, very few become laws.

Resources:

FAQ: S. 1410, Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013

Factsheet: A brief history of crack cocaine sentencing laws

FAQ: The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 

FAQ: The 2011 retroactive crack guideline amendment

Chart: Mandatory minimum drug sentences, 21 U.S.C. § 841

Current Drug Safety Valve: 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f)


H.R. 2372: Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act

Bill text: To read the full text of the bill, click here.

Bill progress: To track the progress of the bill, click here.

Summary: If passed, the bill would eliminate the so-called “18-to-1″ disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine mandatory minimum sentences under the federal code. Under current law, it takes 28 grams of crack cocaine to trigger a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, but 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same sentence.  It takes 280 grams of crack cocaine to trigger a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, but 5,000 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same sentence.  H.R. 2372 would eliminate this distinction so that it would take 500 grams of crack cocaine to trigger the five-year mandatory minimum term, and 5,000 grams of crack cocaine to trigger the 10-year mandatory minimum term. H.R. 2372 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations for review. FAMM supports this bill.

THE BILL IS NOT A LAW. We do not know if or when the bill will become a law. Before it can become a law, the bill must be passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by the President. This could take a long time, or it may never happen. Each year, thousands of bills are introduced in Congress, but very, very few become laws.

Resources:

Factsheet: A brief history of crack cocaine sentencing laws

FAQ: The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 


H.R. 2369: The Fair Sentencing Clarification Act

Bill text: To read the full text of the bill, click here.

Bill progress: To track the progress of the bill, click here.

Summary: If passed, this bill would make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactively applicable to federal prisoners who committed federal crack cocaine offenses before August 3, 2010, and are still serving mandatory minimum sentences based on the old, 100-to-one crack-powder disparity. The bill would allow prisoners, the court, or the Director of the Bureau of Prisons to bring a motion in the court where the prisoner was sentenced, asking for retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act. FAMM supports this bill.

THE BILL IS NOT A LAW. We do not know if or when the bill will become a law. Before it can become a law, the bill must be passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by the President. This could take a long time, or it may never happen. Each year, thousands of bills are introduced in Congress, but very, very few become laws.

Resources:

Factsheet: A brief history of crack cocaine sentencing laws

FAQ: The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010