11th Circuit federal court to consider crack sentencing disparity

In 2010, the federal government passed legislation intended to reduce the disparities between sentencing for powder cocaine and crack cocaine. The previous guidelines were seen by many as disproportionately penalizing African-Americans. The issue before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals now is how to apply the law to those who committed an offense before the law was signed but were not sentenced until after it was effective.

In the wake of the Fair Sentencing Act, various panels of judges from the 11th Circuit reached seemingly inconsistent decisions in a number of cases involving drug charges. In some cases, they allowed resentencing under the new guidelines, while in others they did not. Now the full court will consider how the new sentencing law should be applied.

Initially, the Justice Department argued that those who committed crimes before the law was signed should be sentenced under the old guidelines. But now, the Attorney General has instructed all federal prosecutors to take the position that the new sentencing laws apply to anyone who had not yet been sentenced when the law took effect.

Since government prosecutors have now abandoned the position that the Fair Sentencing Act should not apply, it is not clear who would argue in favor of this position if the court decides to hold oral arguments in the matter.

When the Attorney General instructed federal prosecutors to apply the new sentencing guidelines, he said that is was in furtherance of the Justice Department’s “mandate to do justice in every case.” It will be interesting to see if the full 11th Circuit agrees with the reasoning of the Justice Department.

Source: Daily Report “Full 11th Circuit will take up question of crack sentencings,” Alyson M. Palmer, Oct. 11, 2011