Sentences for crack and powder cocaine now more in line

In early July 2013, a Michigan woman testified that a man forced her to smoke crack cocaine at a motel before allegedly raping her. She claimed that although she had initially planned to get high on crack with the man she changed her mind when he began acting aggressively towards her. She also testified that she had been clean for several months prior. The man has now been charged with criminal sexual conduct and drug possession among other crimes.

Although not all the surrounding circumstances of this case are known, in the past crack cocaine has often been associated with poverty and large cities. This is because crack, a form of cocaine that is crystallized into rocks, is cheaper and easier to produce then cocaine in its powdered form so it can be sold at a discounted rate.

Crack and powdered cocaine are both powerfully addictive drugs. They can rapidly enter the bloodstream and result in the user experiencing a sense of heightened euphoria. The user, however, reaches a point of tolerance quickly and needs higher or more frequent doses to achieve the same high previously experienced from the drug.

Disparate sentences for users of crack cocaine and powder cocaine

In a ruling last year, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to backdate the Fairness in Sentencing Act to apply to those defendants who had not received sentences and had committed drug crimes prior to the 2010 passing of the Act. At issue was the disparate sentencing between people convicted for use of crack cocaine and those who used powder cocaine.

Before the passage of the FSA, a person convicted on federal charges of possession of crack cocaine faced a significant disparity in sentencing compared to an individual convicted for possession of powder cocaine. That is because the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 instituted a 100-to-1 ratio that treated one gram of crack as the equivalent of 100 grams of cocaine for sentencing purposes. The FSA repealed that portion and other portions of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act lowering the ratio to 18-to-1.

Because of the passing of the FSA and the subsequent ruling on retroactivity, nearly 6,600 individuals serving time for crack cocaine convictions have received, on average, a 29-month reduction to their sentences, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Not only does the change in policy bring potential savings to taxpayers, it helps correct the misplaced perception that crack is more dangerous than cocaine by more closely aligning the sentences of drug crimes where the central difference is the type of cocaine used.

Seeking professional help

Working with an attorney who is knowledgeable about changes in the law, such as the passing of the FSA, can help a person who is charged with a drug crime protect his or her rights. In addition, an experienced drug crime lawyer will understand how mandatory minimum sentences work and can help a defendant understand what he or she is facing.