Fair Sentencing

On Wednesday October 9th, Vincent Southerland, Senior Counsel in the Criminal Justice Practice, will argue a case in front of the entire Sixth Circuit calling for the Fair Sentencing Act to be applied retroactively and thus entitle nearly 9,000 individuals across the country, of which 90% are African American, who are serving out sentences imposed on them from the older sentencing guideline, to a new hearing.

In an amicus brief submitted to the court, LDF argued that not applying the FSA retroactively would perpetuate a racially discriminatory regime.

In May 2013, a 3-judge panel on the Sixth Circuit recognized this and sought to apply the FSA retroactively. The discriminatory nature of the old sentencing regime is so obvious that it cannot seriously be argued that race does not play a role in the failure to retroactively apply the Fair Sentencing Act,” the majority opinion read. This current case is before an en banc panel of the Circuit.

In 2010, the Senate passed the Fair Sentencing Act which addressed the blatant racial discrimination in original crack cocaine sentencing guidelines under which 100 grams of powder cocaine triggered the same sentence as a single gram of crack. Congress accordingly reduced this disparity to 18-to-1, still a deeply disappointing and incomplete outcome. Powder cocaine and crack are indistinguishable from a criminological and pharmacological standpoint.

White Americans comprise more than 50% of crack users and less than 10% of federal convictions for crack offenses. African Americans comprise 32% of crack users and 82% of federal convictions for crack offenses. As of 2003, African Americans served nearly as much time in prison for a drug offense in the federal system (58.7 months) as whites did for violent offense (61.7 months).

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Click here to read the amicus brief LDF filed in the case.