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Old 03-03-2008, 11:44 PM   #1
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One less biased U.S. law?

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Thousands of crack sentences could be reduced
Rules taking effect this week intended to bring fairness to drug penalties


NEW YORK - Marsha Cunningham was no drug dealer. But when authorities busted her boyfriend in the 1990s for selling crack and powdered cocaine, they also arrested her on a crack possession charge.

Her sentence: Fifteen years behind bars, only two less than her boyfriend got.

But Cunningham is now one of nearly 20,000 inmates convicted of crack offenses who may see their prison terms reduced under new federal guidelines intended to bring retroactive fairness to drug sentencing.

"Marsha is a really good person," said her aunt, Ruby Jones of Houston. "She got caught up in this behind her boyfriend."

The sentencing guidelines went into effect Monday — the result of a December decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to ease the way the system came down far harder on crack-related crimes than on those involving powdered cocaine.

Previously, a person with one gram of crack would receive the same sentence as someone with 100 grams of the powdered form of cocaine. The disparity has been decried as racially discriminatory, since four of every five crack defendants in the U.S. are black, while most powdered-cocaine convictions involve whites.

1,600 eligible this week
"The sentences for crack cocaine have been one of the most corrosive and unjust areas of criminal law," said Michael Nachmanoff, head of the federal public defender's office for the Eastern District of Virginia. "It's really undermined respect for the criminal justice system, not only in the African-American community but throughout the country."

Nachmanoff said four clients of his office were being released under the new guidelines Monday.

About 1,600 inmates are eligible for immediate release this week, but there is no way to know exactly how many will ultimately be freed, since each prisoner has to ask for a reduction and go before a judge. The remainder of the 19,500 crack defendants will become eligible for release over the next 30 years.

"As we do with all sentencing guidelines, the department will apply the new rule as written," Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said Monday. "We will be urging the courts not to go beyond the limited reduction that the Sentencing Commission has asked for and not to re-sentence defendants from scratch."

The Justice Department said it is more worried about crack defendants set to come up for release later, saying they include a higher share of violent offenders and potential repeat offenders than the first batch.

Violent criminals, or not?
Attorney General Michael Mukasey told a police group last week that nearly 80 percent of the crack defendants who could apply for a reduction in their sentences have some kind of criminal past.

"This tells us those who are eligible for early release are very likely to commit another crime," Mukasey told the Fraternal Order of Police. "These offenders are often violent criminals who are likely to repeat their criminal activities."

But Nachmanoff said few of the crack defendants are violent criminals.

"These are people who committed crimes and have been punished, and the sentencing commission is trying to ensure that they are not punished excessively," he said.

Cunningham, 37, was sentenced in 1998 and has a projected release date of July 24, 2011. She filed a request last week for a sentence reduction, but it has not been ruled on yet.

Her aunt said two of Cunningham's grandparents have died since she went to prison, and her father is in a nursing home.

"He's hoping that she gets out soon so that he can see her," said Jones, the aunt. "Put his arms around her."

Jones said that in phone calls to her family, Cunningham is upbeat but anxious about when she will be released.

"She's been in there for so long," Jones said. "For so long."

Source


FYI: prior to this, U.S. sentencing guidelines treated 1 gram of crack the same as 100 grams of powder cocaine. So crack users got much longer prison sentences than powder users.

The majority of crack users are low-income minorities. Guess who the majority of powder is? I can't believe it has taken this long to realize the racial and socio-economic disparity here. Any thoughts?
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Old 03-03-2008, 11:48 PM   #2
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yeah

lock your cars

doors and windows
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Old 03-03-2008, 11:49 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally posted by deep
yeah

lock your cars

doors and windows
but you feel safe with the powder cocaine users that roam freely around town for having less than 100 grams?
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Old 03-03-2008, 11:59 PM   #4
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It's certainly an encouraging coda to this thread from last week, since so many of those 1 out of 100 are serving long sentences because of these 'Anti-Drug Act' guidelines.
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Old 03-04-2008, 12:01 AM   #5
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addicts need to finance their habit

powder or rock
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Old 03-04-2008, 12:09 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally posted by unico


but you feel safe with the powder cocaine users that roam freely around town for having less than 100 grams?


people addicted to powder cocaine can afford their habits.

and good lawyers, too.
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Old 03-04-2008, 12:11 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by Irvine511




people addicted to powder cocaine can afford their habits.

and good lawyers, too.
they were also cushioned with a shite law.
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Old 03-04-2008, 02:29 AM   #8
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I don't think the sentencing laws were written to be biased, only to protect the already crime and drug infested neighborhoods of our inner cities from yet another scourge, crack cocaine. But if they are in fact doing more harm than good than it's probably the correct thing to do.

By the way, what are some other "biased laws" in this awful, unjust country of ours?
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Old 03-04-2008, 08:08 AM   #9
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well i'd say the whole marriage thing is pretty biased
but that's another topic. this is something that i just wanted to start a discussion about, and had trouble coming up with a creative subject line for it.
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Old 03-04-2008, 08:11 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by INDY500


By the way, what are some other "biased laws" in this awful, unjust country of ours?
See here's your paranoia.
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Old 03-04-2008, 09:04 AM   #11
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Long, long overdue. And the irony (and idiocy) of it is if you were really trying to put it in perspective you'd skew it the other way. 100 grams of powder coke has more drugs in it than 100 grams of crack which might have only a little coke and a bunch of baking soda or whatever.

And I'm not sure it's crack that's a scourge, I'd say it's poverty and crack just made/makes it worse. Addicts get desperate, it's pretty universal. Difference is white-collar cokeheads have more options - snort up their kids' college fund, embezzle a bit of money from the boss, maybe even a bit of blackmail. Those options aren't there for the urban crackhead so he/she finds other sources of illicit income, from robbery to prostitution. It doesn't make them worse, it doesn't make crack worse, it just makes them poor.

But then along comes the government with its racial bias, and you get laws like this. Anyone know how meth is treated by the legal system, compared to crack?
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Old 03-04-2008, 10:15 AM   #12
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Last month Joe Biden apologized for the bias in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act and called for reform.

Quote:
"I am part of the problem I've been trying to solve since then because I think the disparity is way out of line," he said during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, which he chairs. "Our intentions were good, but much of our information turns out to be not as good as our intentions."
Link to full article:
http://www.delawareonline.com/apps/p...NEWS/802130375

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Old 03-07-2008, 12:16 AM   #13
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Quote:
The Wire's War on the Drug War

By Ed Burns, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Richard Price, David Simon

We write a television show. Measured against more thoughtful and meaningful occupations, this is not the best seat from which to argue public policy or social justice. Still, those viewers who followed The Wire — our HBO drama that tried to portray all sides of inner-city collapse, including the drug war, with as much detail and as little judgment as we could muster — tell us they've invested in the fates of our characters. They worry or grieve for Bubbles, Bodie or Wallace, certain that these characters are fictional yet knowing they are rooted in the reality of the other America, the one rarely acknowledged by anything so overt as a TV drama.

These viewers, admittedly a small shard of the TV universe, deluge us with one question: What can we do? If there are two Americas — separate and unequal — and if the drug war has helped produce a psychic chasm between them, how can well-meaning, well-intentioned people begin to bridge those worlds?

And for five seasons, we answered lamely, offering arguments about economic priorities or drug policy, debating theoreticals within our tangled little drama. We were storytellers, not advocates; we ducked the question as best we could.

Yet this war grinds on, flooding our prisons, devouring resources, turning city neighborhoods into free-fire zones. To what end? State and federal prisons are packed with victims of the drug conflict. A new report by the Pew Center shows that 1 of every 100 adults in the U.S. — and 1 in 15 black men over 18 — is currently incarcerated. That's the world's highest rate of imprisonment.

The drug war has ravaged law enforcement too. In cities where police agencies commit the most resources to arresting their way out of their drug problems, the arrest rates for violent crime — murder, rape, aggravated assault — have declined. In Baltimore, where we set The Wire, drug arrests have skyrocketed over the past three decades, yet in that same span, arrest rates for murder have gone from 80% and 90% to half that. Lost in an unwinnable drug war, a new generation of law officers is no longer capable of investigating crime properly, having learned only to make court pay by grabbing cheap, meaningless drug arrests off the nearest corner.

What the drugs themselves have not destroyed, the warfare against them has. And what once began, perhaps, as a battle against dangerous substances long ago transformed itself into a venal war on our underclass. Since declaring war on drugs nearly 40 years ago, we've been demonizing our most desperate citizens, isolating and incarcerating them and otherwise denying them a role in the American collective. All to no purpose. The prison population doubles and doubles again; the drugs remain.

Our leaders? There aren't any politicians — Democrat or Republican — willing to speak truth on this. Instead, politicians compete to prove themselves more draconian than thou, to embrace America's most profound and enduring policy failure.

"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right," wrote Thomas Paine when he called for civil disobedience against monarchy — the flawed national policy of his day. In a similar spirit, we offer a small idea that is, perhaps, no small idea. It will not solve the drug problem, nor will it heal all civic wounds. It does not yet address questions of how the resources spent warring with our poor over drug use might be better spent on treatment or education or job training, or anything else that might begin to restore those places in America where the only economic engine remaining is the illegal drug economy. It doesn't resolve the myriad complexities that a retreat from war to sanity will require. All it does is open a range of intricate, paradoxical issues. But this is what we can do — and what we will do.

If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will — to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun's manifesto against the death penalty — no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens.

Jury nullification is American dissent, as old and as heralded as the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, and absent a government capable of repairing injustices, it is legitimate protest. If some few episodes of a television entertainment have caused others to reflect on the war zones we have created in our cities and the human beings stranded there, we ask that those people might also consider their conscience. And when the lawyers or the judge or your fellow jurors seek explanation, think for a moment on Bubbles or Bodie or Wallace. And remember that the lives being held in the balance aren't fictional.

The authors are all members of the writing staff of HBO's The Wire, which concludes its five-year run on March 9
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