James E. Felman Speaks to Senate on Drugs
Legal Topics | 2008/02/28 00:58
The crack-powder disparity is simply wrong and the time to fix it is now," stated James E. Felman in his remarks on behalf of the American Bar Association before the Senate Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs Subcommittee, earlier today. The ABA is part of a broad consensus that finds disparity in sentences for crack and powder cocaine offenses "unjustifiable and plainly unjust."

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 enacted the 100-to-1 quantity sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, which are pharmacologically identical drugs.  Reports by the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2002 and 2007 opposed the sentencing disparity.  In December 2007, the commission – which had in May 2007 voted to adjust downward the sentencing guidelines relative to crack cocaine offenses and had urged Congress to end the 100-1 disparity – voted unanimously to make the guidelines change retroactive.

Felman, co-chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section Committee on Sentencing, appeared at the hearing, Federal Cocaine Sentencing Laws: Reforming the 100:1 Crack Powder Disparity.  Speaking to the vastness of the disparity, Felman stated, "Crimes involving just five grams of crack, 10 to 50 doses, receive the same five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence as crimes involving 500 grams of powder cocaine, 2,500 to 5,000 doses."

Citing the 2007 Sentencing Commission report, Felman also highlighted the disparity's effect on African Americans, saying that, while African Americans constituted 82 percent of those sentenced under federal crack cocaine laws, "66 percent of those who use crack cocaine are Caucasian or Hispanic." Because of the disparity, "African Americans [spend] substantially more time in federal prisons for drug offenses than Caucasian offenders."

Felman concluded by urging Congress to act to correct the disparity, citing legislation introduced by Sen. Joe Biden, a member of the Judiciary Committee. “Enactment of S.1711 would restore fairness and a sound foundation to federal sentencing policy regarding cocaine offenses by ending the disparate treatment of crack versus cocaine offenses and by refocusing federal policy toward major drug traffickers involved with weapons and violence.”

You may read the full prepared remarks by Mr. Felman http://www.abanet.org/poladv/letters/crimlaw/2008feb12_crackdisparity_t.pdf

For the last ten years, Felman has organized and moderated the Annual National Seminar on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which is jointly sponsored by the Federal Bar Association and the United States Sentencing Commission.  In addition to being the co-chair of the Committee on Sentencing of the ABA, Felman also served as former co-chair of the ABA’s Committee on Corrections and Sentencing.

With more than 413,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world.  As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.


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