As we have discussed several times in the past, the old laws dealing with prison sentences were very different for crack cocaine crimes as opposed to powder cocaine crimes. Basically, a person charged with an amount of crack cocaine often faced a much more severe prison sentence than a different person charged with the same amount of powder cocaine. After years of incredibly disparate sentences for similar drug crimes, quite often detrimentally affecting African-Americans, Congress finally acted to minimize the difference with the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. The difference was not eliminated altogether. However, because the differences were so tremendous before, there was room to make significant changes. The ratio of prison sentences for crack cocaine crimes versus powder cocaine crimes went from 100 – 1 to 18 – 1. There is still a pretty big difference, but it is much better than before.
The new rules are now in effect for federal crack cocaine and powder cocaine crimes. Anyone who is charged with a crack cocaine crime going forward will benefit from the less stringent sentencing rules. Due to a United States Sentencing Commission decision, the new rules are also being applied retroactively, which means people who were arrested and convicted for crack cocaine crimes in the past and sentenced to prison under the old rules can challenge that sentence and request a modified sentence more in line with the new rules. Many people have recently been successful with that challenge.
Statistics show that approximately 1,800 people in federal prisons on crack cocaine charges are eligible for immediate release under the new sentencing rules. Additionally, about 12,000 federal inmates convicted of crack cocaine charges are eligible for reduced prison sentences.