Drug Crimes Sentencing Disparities

One of the features of the federal criminal system is a very complex and detailed sentencing scheme.  North Carolina has its own structured sentencing scheme, about which I’ve written previously. Structured sentencing in North Carolina on the felony level has been  around since 1995-96, and has levels A through I, and three ranges: mitigated, presumptive, and aggravated.

But the federal criminal system’s sentencing guildelines are far more complex.  There is even an online sentencing calculator for federal crimes.

One of the features of the federal criminal system’s sentencing guidelines is that certain federal drug crimes are treated much more harshly than other drug crimes.  For instance, someone convicted on federal charges of possessing powdered cocaine will get a much lighter sentence than someone convicted of selling the same amount of crack rock cocaine.

Since powdered cocaine is preferred by middle and upper class people, and crack cocaine is more common in poorer communities, poorer and minority defendants are disproportionately hurt by the sentencing guidelines.  For many years, civil libertarians have complained about the disparity in sentencing guidelines.

Finally, the Justice Department plans to do something about them. In the spring, the new chief of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer, told the Senate Judiciary subcommittee that the Obama Administration will support bills to equalize punishment for offenders convicted of possessing the drug in either form.

Hopefully, the Obama Administration doesn’t raise the punishment on powdered cocaine, but rather lowers the punishment on crack rock cocaine.  Federal drug laws are already too absurdly punitive as it is.  It would be a real shame to equalize treatment of peoples by punishing everyone more harshly.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.