Federal Sentencing Disparity Between Crack and Powder Cocaine Reduced

Today President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 into law. This federal law reduces the disparity between criminal sentences for crack and powder cocaine from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1 and eliminates the mandatory minimum five-year sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine. While this is a step in the right direction, a significant disparity remains and the law has not been made retroactive.

The major features of the law include the following:
• The five-year mandatory minimum sentence now applies to cases involving at least 28 grams of crack cocaine, compared to the prior 5 grams.
• The ten-year mandatory minimum sentence now applies to cases involving at least 280 grams of crack cocaine, compared to the prior 50 grams.
• The Act eliminates a five-year mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine.
• The Act increases financial penalties for major drug traffickers.
• Within 90 days, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) must increase the sentences under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines for defendants using violence in drug trafficking crimes and emphasize certain aggravating and mitigating factors.
• The Comptroller General must report to Congress on the effectiveness of drug court programs.
• In five years, the USSC must report to Congress on the impact of the law’s changes to cocaine sentencing law.

The full text of the Act is available here.