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Attorney General Wants Cocaine Sentences Equalized

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called for an end to the gap between prison sentences for crack and powdered cocaine crimes at a recent legal discussion sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, the Washington Post reported June 24.

Under current federal law, it takes 100 times more powdered cocaine than crack cocaine to warrant the same mandatory minimum sentences. The gap affects African-American defendants the most since they are more likely to be arrested for offenses involving crack than powdered cocaine, according to federal crime statistics.

“This administration firmly believes that the disparity in crack and powdered cocaine sentences is unwarranted,” said Holder. “It must be eliminated.”

The Obama administration wants to change the 100-to-1 ratio in sentencing to 1-to-1. Other lawmakers agree that the law should be changed, but some say it would be better to increase the penalty for powder cocaine and lower the penalty for crack cocaine.

“Going to 1-to-1 is a big change,” said Mark Osler, who teaches law at Baylor University and is a former prosecutor. “The question that really hasn't been resolved is 1-to-1 at what level. Is the penalty for cocaine powder going up?”

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who helped create the sentencing guidelines and was also at the Congressional Black Caucus event, asked Congress to first examine the laws that establish mandatory minimums for certain crimes.

Democrats, Republicans, individual prosecutors and judges have all criticized the harsh crack penalties that were enacted in the 1980s.

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