On Wednesday, October 9, 2013, the full (en banc) United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit heard oral arguments in U.S. v. Blewett, to decide whether the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) of 2010 — which reduced the federal government’s notorious 100:1 sentencing ratio for crack and powder cocaine to 18:1 — applies to all offenders, regardless of their date of sentence.
Vincent Southerland, Senior Counsel in LDF’s Criminal Justice Practice, argued on behalf of the LDF which serves as amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) in the case, that the FSA should be applied retroactively to the prison sentences of the thousands of individuals who are still serving unfairly inflated and racially discriminatory 100:1-based federal prison sentences.
The federal government’s 100:1 crack/powder sentencing disparity was notoriously unfair and discriminatory. There is no pharmacological difference between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. And while white Americans comprise more than half of all crack cocaine users, they represent less than 10 percent of federal convictions for crack cocaine offenses. Meanwhile, African Americans comprise nearly one-third of crack cocaine users and 82 percent of federal convictions for crack cocaine offenses. In recognition of the fact that the sentencing disparity was not justified by science or any penological interests and that it resulted in discrimination against African-Americans, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 which reduced the sentencing ratio from 100:1 to 18:1.
Unfortunately, despite the passage of the FSA, today there are thousands of people — the vast majority of whom are African American — still in prison serving excessive sentences based on the discredited 100:1 sentencing disparity. In May of this year, a majority panel of the Sixth Circuit concluded that it was unconstitutional to allow thousands of already incarcerated offenders to continue to serve extremely long sentences based on the 100:1 disparity, while allowing offenders – who have committed identical crimes – to receive significantly shorter sentences, based on the 18:1 sentencing calculation, simply because they were sentenced later.
Read LDF’s amicus brief here.
Click here to read the fact sheet.
Read the full court’s opinion here.