Category Archives: Drug Crimes

Making the Fair Sentencing Act Fair

The federal Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 significantly reduced the sentences for defendants who are convicted of violating the crack cocaine laws. Should the sentences that the new Act provides for be given to defendants who were convicted before the Act was passed, but who have not yet been sentenced?

The US Supreme Court is likely to answer this question when it decides the cases of Dorsey v. US and Hill vs. US. The decision is particularly important because the former sentences for crack cocaine violations were widely viewed as racist. Crack cocaine was a “black man’s crime” while powder cocaine was a “white man’s crime,” and until the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act violators of crack cocaine laws werepunished far more harshly than violators of powder cocaine laws.

Whichever way the majority rules, the Court’s opinion will no doubt review the Act’s language with a fine tooth comb in the course of deciding what Congress intended. But there’s a good chance that Congress had no intent beyond punting the issue to the courts to make a decision that the legislators should have made themselves.

In my opinion, the only fair outcome is for the Court to apply the reduced sentencing provisions to all those people still awaiting sentencing. The racial disparity in sentences for for violations of the cocaine laws has gone on long enough. Congress has established a more enlightened and fair sentencing policy. Though Congress may not have spoken as clearly as it might have, the Supreme Court needs to apply the new policy to as many people as possible.

The Young and the Arrested

By age 23, almost one-third of all people in the U.S. will have been arrested for a crime other than a minor traffic offense, so say the findings of a new study in the journal Pediatrics.

These numbers show a marked increase from a similar study conducted 44 years ago, which found that 22 percent of people had been arrested by age 23.

While the new number (30.2 percent, to be exact)  may seem surprisingly high, keep in mind that it applies only to arrests — not to convictions, and not even to the filing of formal criminal charges. (Learn more about Criminal Charges and How Cases Get Started.) And while there are surely more than a few hardened criminals under the age of 23, the data includes arrests for comparatively minor offenses such as truancy, vandalism, and underage drinking.    

So why are heavy silver bracelets all the rage these days? Some experts are attributing the rise in arrests among young people to factors like the increased prevalence of drug offenses and domestic violence offenses — which were not committed, reported, or acted upon by law enforcement with nearly as much frequency four decades ago (more in this Chicago Sun-Times article). The New York Times points out that this rise in arrests for young adults comes at a time when it’s easier than ever for potential employers to check on criminal histories, so young job applicants may be in for an “arrested development” when it comes to their careers.