Drug Sentencing—Obama Can Do More: Debra J. Saunders

Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Clarence Aaron, sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent crime
“Kudos to Obama for working for needed balance [between crack and powder cocaine sentencing] but he could do more,” argues Debra J. Saunders, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which implemented mandatory minimum sentences for drug traffickers. The federal law enforced a five-year minimum term for those caught with 5 grams of crack or for 500 grams of powder cocaine—creating a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity. Asa Hutchison, Drug Enforcement Administration chief under President George W. Bush, “observed that the law meted out a five-year sentence for 10 to 50 doses of crack, or 2,500 to 5,000 doses of powder cocaine.”
In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama campaigned against the disparity because the Anti-Drug Abuse Act resulted in greater jail time for black offenders than white offenders. In 2006, white offenders accounted for less than 1 in 10 crack offenders convicted. According to Eric E. Sterling, a then-congressional staffer who helped write the Anti-Drug Abuse law, initially “no one said that this is an anti-black law. [Many] saw the crack epidemic as a plague on inner-city black communities.” However, over time the 100-1 disparity alienated the black community because black offenders were serving much more time than white offenders. In 1995, the United States Sentencing Commission recommended equal sentences, however, nothing was done.
Margaret Colgate Love and John Stanish, former U.S. Pardon Attorneys recommended in the National Law Journal that Obama grant clemency to a few that are serving ridiculous terms. For example, Clarence Aaron was arrested in Alabama at the age of 23 in 1993 and charged with intent to distribute crack cocaine. Aaron had no criminal record, yet is serving life without parole for his first-time nonviolent drug offence. Saunders urges that change should begin with granting clemency.
-Erika K. Solanki
Huge Crack in System of Drug Prosecution (by Debra J. Saunders, Creators Syndicate)


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