- May 24, 2020
Fair Sentencing Laws
InAmerica, the Congress constantly observes the effectiveness of allset policies and their contribution to the country’s development.The policies which are found to be ineffective are reviewed andaltered to ensure that they cover well the areas that they aresupposed to act. Many policies have been abolished and others havebeen altered to better serve the American people fairly. Outdatedpolicies are updated or replaced with better policies which guidepeople in better ways. One of the major policy changes in America wasthe passing of Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 that was signed by thePresident of America, Barack Obama to replace the Anti-Drug Abuse Actof 1986 (Gee, 2014).
OnAugust 3, 2010, President Barack Obama signed an Act of the Congress,the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, into a federal law. This new law wasmeant to help in reducing the difference between the quantity ofpowder cocaine and crack cocaine which was required to initiateparticular federal criminal penalties from 1:100 ratio of weight to1:18 ratio of weight, and remove the compulsory five-year minimumsentence which was imposed for simply possessing crack cocaine, amongother changes. Several US Congresses had also introduced similarbills before this bill was passed in 2010. The courts had also takensome measures to lower the sentencing differences before the bill waspassed (Bjerk, 2016).
TheAnti-Drug Abuse Act which was passed in 1986 had resulted in theinitial sentencing differences, showing the views of the Congressthat the use of crack cocaine had worse effects compared to the useof powder cocaine. Since that time, a lot of studies have been doneby the United States Sentencing Commission and other bodiesconsisting of specialists in the field of drugs. The results of theseresearches indicate that the disparities between the two drugs’effects are magnified and the sentencing difference is not necessary.More controversy around the 1:100 ration resulted from claims by somegroups that it was racially biased and that it was a majorcontributing factor to having many African Americans sent to jailbecause of offences related to crack cocaine. Legislation to lowerthe difference in sentencing began in the mid-1990s resulting to thesigning of Fair Sentencing Act into law (Cummins,2016).
Thecrack cocaine use became most popular in the 1980s. It wasaccompanied by increased cases of violence in the urban areas. Tohelp reduce this problem of increased crack cocaine use, theAnti-Drug Abuse Act was introduced in 1986. This Act had a provisionwhich caused the difference between federal punishments for powdercocaine and crack cocaine offences. According to the provision, thesentence for a person found in possession of crack cocaine was 100times that of the person found with the same amount of powdercocaine. The law also had minimum sentences and other differencesbetween the two forms of cocaine (Cummins,2016).
Threedecades before the Fair Sentencing Act was passed, people who wereaccused of possessing crack cocaine were given very severe penaltiescompared to those who were found with powder cocaine. For instance, aperson arrested with five grams of the crack cocaine would receive acompulsory sentence of five years minimum those found with powdercocaine would only receive an equal sentence if they had five hundredgrams, 100 times the amount of the crack cocaine.
Whenpassing the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, the Congress gave five reasons forthe differences in sentencing. First, it was said that the use ofcrack cocaine was far more addictive compared to the use of powdercocaine. Second, the use of crack cocaine was being associated withthe increased criminal activities which had emerged in the urbanareas. Third, there was fear that the youth were being influenced touse the crack cocaine. Fourth, the crack cocaine was very cheap andthus would be used in large amounts, and lastly, pregnant mothersusing crack cocaine endangered the lives of their unborn babies(Cummins,2016).
In1997, a study was conducted which examined the differences inaddiction between the two types cocaine. The study concluded that thetwo types of cocaine were equally addictive. The study examinedreasons why crack cocaine was perceived as the most addictive and itfound out that the users who were more prone to abuse preferred usinga more efficient way of ingesting cocaine and thus chose crackcocaine since it is easily smoked. There was no scientific evidenceto show that the two types have different levels of addiction(Cummins,2016).
Thedifference in sentencing people found in possession of the two typesof cocaine is seen by several groups of people as racially biased. Inthe year 1995, the Sentencing Commission in the U.S explained thatthe differences in sentences resulted in racial imbalances in thejails and also resulted in tough penalties being given to smalldealers of crack cocaine leaving behind great powder cocaine dealers.This led to many African Americans being given harsh penalties sincethey were the main users of crack cocaine (Bjerk, 2016).
Despitethe 1:100 ratio in federal sentence remaining unaltered from 1986 to2010, two cases in the Supreme Court gave the smaller courts theability to determine the sentences for those convicted with cocainerelated offences. The Spears v. United States and Kimbrough v. UnitedStates in 2007 gave the smaller courts the choice of settingsentences and permitted the judges who were not in agreement with theguidelines of the Federal Sentencing to abandon the statutory ratioaccording to the policy concerns (Mallicoat & Gardiner, 2016).
OnJuly 29, 2009, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act, which was aproposed legislation was passed by the House Committee on theJudiciary. The bill was led by Bobby Scott and supported by 62representatives from the U.S House of Representatives. The bill aimedat completely eliminating the differences in sentencing. However, theFair Sentencing Act was started as a counter legislation and itreceived huge support. The act reduced the differences in sentencingratio from 1:100 to 1: 18. The Act has improved the fairness ofcriminal justice in the federal system. Many non-profit groups andprominent politicians are calling for further changes to fully removethe remaining differences and ensure 1:1 sentencing ratio (Mallicoat& Gardiner, 2016).
TheFair Sentencing Act has played a major role in ensuring fairnessamong those found guilty of cocaine related offences. The Congressmade a very important step in passing the bill. The president alsodid a great thing to allow the Fairness Sentence Act replace theAnti-Drug Abuse Act which was based on assumptions and not scientificfacts. The initial Act was outdated and baseless and thus could notensure justice. With the new Act, it is possible to arrested andcharge all offenders equally ensuring that all people are treatedequally.
Bjerk,D. (2016). Mandatory Minimum Policy Reform and the Sentencing ofCrack Cocaine Defendants: An Analysis of the Fair SentencingAct. BrowserDownload This Paper.
Cummins,I. (2016, February 21). THE INTERNET JOURNAL OF CRIMINOLOGY©. Retrieved November 21, 2016, fromhttp://www.internetjournalofcriminology.com/
Gee,H. (2014). Striving for Equal Justice: Applying the Fair SentencingAct of 2010 Retroactively. WakeForest L. Rev., 49,207.
Mallicoat,S. L., & Gardiner, C. L. (Eds.). (2013). Criminal Justice Policy.SAGE Publications.