Attorney General changes course on crack sentencing

The change in the crack-related crimes has been a victory for common sense and for people accused of federal drug crimes in Georgia and across the country. However, the change has brought about a great deal of confusion, which is slowly being resolved.

Recently, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sent a memo out to all federal prosecutors that addresses some of the questions about the new crack sentencing laws that lessened the severity of sentences for crimes involving crack cocaine.

When the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 went into law last August, the Department of Justice directed its prosecutors that the new sentences would only apply to offenses that were actually committed after August 3, 2010. In practice, this would have meant that people could be tried under the old standards for years to come. In his recent memo, the Attorney General reversed that position.

Many different courts across the country reached a variety of conclusions on the issue of whether the new law should apply to people sentenced on or after August 3, 2010. Some courts decided that the new crack sentencing law should only apply to offenses committed after August 3, 2010. Other courts decided that the new rules should apply to anyone sentenced after August 3, 2010. These courts rightly pointed out that if Congress wanted to make sentencing more fair, there could not be any reason to continue imposing unfair crack sentences for the next few years.

In light of the conflicting court decisions and the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s decision to apply the new crack sentencing guidelines retroactively to people already convicted, the Attorney General changed his official position. Now, the Attorney General has instructed all federal prosecutors that the new guidelines and rules apply to all sentences that occur on or after August 3, 2010.

Source: Office of the Attorney General, “Application of the Statutory Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws for Crack Cocaine Offenses Amended by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010,” 15 July 2011 (retrieved from