The U.S. Sentencing Commission recently voted to allow reduced penalties for crack and cocaine offenders to be applied retroactively. What that means for New Jersey criminal defense attorneys and people who are already in federal prisons for crack cocaine offenses is that thousands of these persons could be released.
As New Jersey criminal defense attorneys, we have long been concerned about the disproportionate sentencing of people convicted of crack cocaine offenses. In the year 2006, sentences for crack cocaine offenses were about 43.5% longer than for powder cocaine convictions. Possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine can lead to a prison term of 5 years for the first offense, while it would take possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine to be eligible for the same sentence.
A conviction for crack cocaine possession with intent to distribute can result in a prison sentence of between 3 and 20 years in jail and fines of up to $300,000. This punishment is much more severe than for other drug crimes. Often, people who are convicted of crack cocaine offenses are also disproportionately black or belong to poorer neighborhoods.
Last year, Congress approved a law that would reduce penalties for crack cocaine offenses, but the decision about whether the law should be applied retroactively for people currently in federal prison for these offenses was postponed. Now the decision has finally come: The U.S. Sentencing Commission has allowed that the law should indeed be retroactively applied.
For thousands of inmates currently in federal prisons for crack cocaine convictions, this means that they could be released soon. As many as 12,400 offenders could be released. These offenders were sentenced through October 1, 1991 and September 30, 2010. Approximately, one third of these prisoners could be released by November 1, 2011.
However, implementation of the law could be blocked if Congress intervenes. Already, some lawmakers have come out in opposition to any move to retroactively apply the law.
The New Jersey criminal defense lawyers at Helmer Paul Conley and Kasselman represent persons charged with DUI, drug crimes, sex crimes, assault, fraud and other crimes across New Jersey.