As criminal defense lawyers in the Jacksonville, Florida area who handle all criminal cases in state and federal courts, we have seen how people convicted of crack cocaine crimes can receive much higher sentences than those convicted of powder cocaine crimes where the amount of powder cocaine was similar to or even less than the crack cocaine in the related case. The unfairness of these sentencing rules, which disproportionately punished people involved with crack cocaine over those involved with powder cocaine, has been discussed by prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers, federal judges and even the Congress and the president.
Finally, new rules bringing sentences for crack cocaine cases and powder cocaine cases closer together have been enacted. The Fair Sentencing Act, which will permanently become the law next year, is now in effect.
The old federal sentencing guidelines would provide that a person caught with as few as 5 grams of crack cocaine would receive a five year minimum mandatory prison sentence. However, it would take at least 500 grams of powder cocaine to get the same minimum mandatory sentence. That was quite a disparity. With the new law and federal sentencing rules, it will now take 28 grams of crack cocaine to trigger the five year minimum mandatory prison sentence. The threshold for the ten year minimum mandatory prison sentence has been increased from 50 grams of crack cocaine to 280 grams of crack cocaine.
Under the new federal criminal sentencing rules, the sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine crimes are not equal, and not really close to being equal. However, they are now much more similar than they were in the past prior to the Fair Sentencing Act.