I applaud the decision of the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce the disparity and unfairness between penalties for convictions associated with crack cocaine and powder cocaine. I have been a long time advocate for reducing the 100 to 1 disparity on sentencing of crack and powder cocaine convictions because it offends the high principle of equal treatment under the law and the fundamental value of fairness. As former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the disparate racial impact of the sentencing rules undermined our nation’s larger goals of respect for the criminal justice system.
The Sentencing Commission also took the correct action by making the application of the new rules retroactive. This does not mean that those sentenced under the old rules will immediately be set free, as some have suggested. That would be unwise and potentially dangerous. Each case would have to be reviewed by the sitting judge and an individual decision would be made as to whether the individual poses any particular risk and whether the circumstances justify an application of the new rules.
As Judge Reggie Walton, one of the Commissioners said, “I just don’t see how its fair that someone sentenced on October 30th gets a certain sentence when someone sentenced on November 1 gets another.” If we can avoid that root of bitterness from growing in our justice system we ought to do it. We can and we did. We should recognize the justice in the unanimous and fair decision of the Sentencing Commission.