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Date: Thursday, September 2, 2010
By: Bill Draper and Denise Lavoie, Associated Press

 

 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Police found such a small amount of crack cocaine in James V. Taylor's car that investigators described it as unweighable. It was enough for a 15-year prison sentence in Missouri, where the courts make an enormous distinction between crack and powder cocaine.


Missouri and several other states followed the federal government's lead in creating such disparities decades ago, but now federal law has changed and prisoner advocates say it's time for the states to do the same. Most drug cases are prosecuted at the state level.


Defense attorneys and other critics of the tougher crack sentences say they subject mostly blacks to long prison terms while those caught with powder cocaine — mostly whites — get far more lenient treatment. Some prosecutors defend the disparities, saying that because crack is smoked, it gets into the bloodstream faster than snorted cocaine, produces a more intense high and is generally considered more addictive.


The federal government imposed tougher sentences for crack in 1986, when use of the drug was rampant and 22-year-old basketball star Len Bias died of cocaine intoxication. Early news reports said Bias had used crack, but after the federal law was passed a teammate of Bias' testified that Bias had actually snorted powder cocaine the night he died.


A person convicted of crack cocaine possession got the same mandatory federal prison term as someone with 100 times as much powder cocaine. President Barack Obama signed a law last month narrowing the federal disparity to 18-to-1.


Fourteen states also passed laws treating crack cases more severely than those involving powder cocaine, though only 10 states currently have such laws on the books. Missouri's is by far the toughest: Someone with 6 grams or more of crack faces the same prison term — at least 10 years — as someone with 75 times more powder cocaine.


"It was too extreme," Taylor said of his case, which began during a February 2005 traffic stop where a Farmington police officer found a crack pipe in his car.


Taylor, 46, of Park Hills, Mo., was convicted twice in the case. The first conviction was overturned because it was based, in part, on a second crack pipe and a half-gram of crack found in his wife's purse. But Taylor was convicted again in 2007 based solely on the residue on his crack pipe. He also had assorted previous felony convictions for theft and credit card fraud.


"They found the crack pipe, washed it out and found trace evidence, and gave me 15 years," said Taylor, who has since been paroled and now works as a hotel maintenance man. "If someone had a drug test and tested positive, that's trace evidence. That's no more than what I had. They should be locked up, too."


Taylor, who is black, said blacks are more likely to use crack than whites, whose addiction of choice in Missouri is methamphetamine.


The only states with crack-cocaine disparities greater than the one in the revised federal law are Missouri and New Hampshire, where traffickers face a maximum of 30 years in prison for 5 grams or more of crack or 28 times more powder cocaine. Other states that have a sentencing disparity are Arizona, California, Maine, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Virginia.


Unlike Missouri, New Hampshire does not have mandatory minimum sentences, except in the cases of drug enterprise leaders or dealers selling within 1,000 feet of a school.


"The mandatory minimums are the biggest obstacle," said Jeff Levin, a former New Hampshire state public defender who is now a federal public defender. "You could have the most sympathetic defendant and that doesn't make a difference unless the judge is given the option to go under the mandatory minimum."


Dan Viets, a Missouri defense attorney who handles a lot of drug cases, has a client who was convicted last month of trafficking 9 grams of crack and faces a prison term of 10 years to life when he is sentenced in October.


"The effect of having these incredibly harsh crack cocaine laws is we have a great deal more African-Americans behind bars in this state for crack offenses," Viets said.


"It's just another form of cocaine, after all," he said. "The hysteria around crack cocaine in the '80s pretty much has been disproved."


Viets said he has urged lawmakers to reduce or eliminate the disparity, but he added that even the most progressive politicians are not optimistic about reforming the law.


"The implication is if you're not for this (disparity), then you're soft on drugs," Viets said.


Jason Lamb, executive director of the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services, said the disparity recognizes the more addictive nature of crack.


"Federal law did not eliminate the disparity, it narrowed the gap," Lamb said. "Congress recognized there's a valid reason for a disparity."


Taylor can attest to the addictive nature of crack. He moved from St. Louis to St. Francois County, about an hour south, in part to make it tougher for him to get the drug.


"You can take a person that's got everything and a year later they got nothing," because of crack, he said. "I've been through that several times in my life."


Taylor also said that although he thinks his sentence was excessive, he knows where the blame ultimately lies.


"I look at it like well, if I'm not doing what I'm doing they wouldn't have the opportunity to do me like that. In my pity party, I realize it's all my fault," he said. "As long as I steer away from crimes and drugs, I don't have to worry about going to jail."


---


Lavoie reported from Boston. Associated Press writer Lynne Tuohy in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.

 
 BLACK by NATURE, PROUD by CHOICE.
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Regardless of what you do to it, cocaine is cocaine.  You can enhance it ... you can cut it.  And in the end, it's still potent, addictive, illegal and a narcotic.

If you're going to criminalize the drug - as opposed to the form it's in - then the punishment should be the same.  And criminalizing the form - instead of the drug - doesn't make much sense if the result from using it is the same.
Last edited by EbonyRose
I think Nuggyt's point is that since crack is a more powerful, more dangerous, more addictive and more damaging version of cocaine, that the penalties for dealing with it should be more severe.  Similar to how robbery is treated differently if you use a firearm than without one.  Or how the same beating is considered assault if the person lives, but murder if the person dies. 

On the one hand, it's hard to support the sentencing disparities when you witness the way these sentencing disparities have destroyed the lives of a lot of young people who, though they got mixed up in things they shouldn't have, they were not really bad kids.  But on the other hand, this drug was way worse than most others, and it created a crisis in our communities that required some kind of legislative response.
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On the one hand, it's hard to support the sentencing disparities when you witness the way these sentencing disparities have destroyed the lives of a lot of young people who, though they got mixed up in things they shouldn't have, they were not really bad kids. But on the other hand, this drug was way worse than most others, and it created a crisis in our communities that required some kind of legislative response.

Absolutely!!  But, the "legislative response" they chose was the wrong one.  Obviously so, or the issue wouldn't be being revisited as it is now.  And primarily so, because they were addressing the 'form' as opposed to the 'drug' itself.

It's taken a couple of decades to realize that it's more effective to treat the drug/addiction than it is to focus on how the user is using it.

Whether a gun is used or not ... robbery is still robbery.  It's still a crime.  And if you address the reasons why a person is compelled to steal from another (like, perhaps, giving him/her a job so that they have their own resources) as opposed to how they decided to do so ... you're more inclined not to create a repeat offender.
Do you realize how many 'users' are in diversion programs, etc around the country?  The reason behind the sentencing is the dealers need to do the time for what they are pushing.  As a matter fact, the federal government deals only in trafficking cases so this will have little it any affect on the user.  The bottom line is it is not the role of government to rehabilitate people.
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Whether a gun is used or not ... robbery is still robbery. It's still a crime. And if you address the reasons why a person is compelled to steal from another (like, perhaps, giving him/her a job so that they have their own resources) as opposed to how they decided to do so ... you're more inclined not to create a repeat offender.
ER, people who commit robbery may have different reasons for doing so.  But it's not just the motivation behind the desire to rob that determines the degree of criminality.  When I feel like it's so worth it to me to steal from somebody that I will introduce a lethal element into it, that indicates that there's something more wrong with me than with a robber who doesn't.  Okay, I like his chain enough to sneak up behind him, rip it from his neck and then run.  But I'm not as depraved as the guy who values life so little that I'll actually threaten to kill him in order to get his chain. 

Like it or not, there are degrees to these things, and it's not really realistic to argue that society shouldn't recognize that. There is no question in the minds of most that the armed robber really should (and usually does) get way more time than the chain-snatcher. 

What if I sold somebody a version of cocaine that was design to cause spontaneous death?  Should I not get a higher penalty than the person who sold a version that causes a brief high?  What if it caused spontaneous death to anyone within a 50 foot radius of the user?
I have yet to see any data the proves yayo is less potent than rock.

If crack was as expensive as yayo, would there be as many addicts
as there have been since rock came on the scene?  I yayo was as
cheap as rock would we see more addicts all out in the suburbs 
the way see addicts in the hood?

it would be an interesting observation if crack and yayo were
similarly priced per unit of measure.
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Like it or not, there are degrees to these things, and it's not really realistic to argue that society shouldn't recognize that. There is no question in the minds of most that the armed robber really should (and usually does) get way more time than the chain-snatcher.

Vox ... I'm not trying to say that there are not varying degrees of the same crime, nor that society shouldn't recognize that.  But, whether I threaten you with a banana or a gun ... I'm STILL threatening you ... am I not??    I am 5 ft. tall ... if Shaq decided he wanted to rob me ... does it really matter if he uses a weapon at all or not??  I mean, yeah, it could be argued that it would be WORSE for him to use a gun .. but, he could step on me with his foot to take my chain ... and the result will be the same.  The crime of robbery perpetrated against me .. and by him.

Personally, I'd rather not be robbed AT ALL ... not with a banana, not with a gun, not with a fist or a foot or anything else!!!    But if that robbery takes place ... the bottom line is I am being violated.  And the perp is committing a crime.  All the rest of it is additional and secondary to that.

Yes, crack cocaine may be more potent, and more addictive than the powder .. but a person who is addicted to cocaine is addicted to cocaine.  And you may need a more intensive treatment to break the addiction to crack ... but breaking the addiction to the powder is no walk in the park, either!!  And in the end, you are still trying to rid your body of the same narcotic addiction.

Deciding to more harshly punish the form the cocaine is in instead of dealing with the drug and addiction itself is the boneheaded idea that has given birth to there being more non-violent, drug-related inmates in our prisons than actual violent criminals (the last stat was listed as 65%), a tripling of the Black female prison population, the emergence of the prison industrial complex as a multi-billion dollar industry, and the political and social disenfranchisement of over one million Black men.

It is and always has been the wrong ("legislative response") thing to do.  I might can see a more severe punishment being given to more severe crimes being committed due to a crack addiction vs. powder addiction ... but a more severe punishment simply for the form of the drug itself???    Not so much.
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Do you realize how many 'users' are in diversion programs, etc around the country? The reason behind the sentencing is the dealers need to do the time for what they are pushing. As a matter fact, the federal government deals only in trafficking cases so this will have little it any affect on the user. The bottom line is it is not the role of government to rehabilitate people.



Well, damn .... somebody better tell the prison system that ... 'cause that's EXACTLY what they've been trying to do since they started building jails and housing criminals!!  Although they're not very good at it ... 'rehabilitation' is supposed to be why the prison system was even built.

This particular story IS about states' sentencing guidelines ... not the federal government's.  And as I said before when I posted the fed story ... the number of drug-related cases at the federal level is only a fraction of the drug cases nationwide.  And that's because most states prosecute drug-related cases at the state level.  This particular story is about how states are not following the fed's lead in changing the sentencing disparity.  Which would have an ENORMOUS affect on users.  And since there are more of them than there are traffickers ... it would only make sense to give them a little more consideration.  Don'tcha think??  

I think the point of cocaine being the main ingredient in producing crack cocaine has been raised in connection with the argument that sentencing for cocaine should be more severe especially in cases where there is enough to charge with intent to distribute.
However, the LEAST president Obama could've done was to make cocaine possession and crack possession laws equal and not 18:1. Lowering the sentencing and charging disparity is not justice or equality. That's like being stabbed in the back 12 inches and then someone pulling the knife out 6 inches, you still have the knife in your back. (Malcolm X)

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However, the LEAST president Obama could've done was to make cocaine possession and crack possession laws equal and not 18:1.

I totally agree!  I cannot believe that President Obama and Eric Holder along with (initially) control of Congress could not have rectified this racist discrimination.  What it boils down to is money.  I'm sure that the prison industrial complex Lobby has more influence over our Congress than the mere citizens of the Untied States.  If the disparity had been corrected to a 1 to 1 ratio, it would mean that thousands sentenced under the previous racist disparity would have to be released because it would have lowered their sentences to time served at least.  Another reason is probably because it may have lead to numerous racial discrimination law suits against the federal government. So, like I said it all boils down to money (just like EVERYTHING in this country).  It is, however, very disappointing that African American lives mean so little to two of the most powerful Black men in America and a political party that wouldn't be anywhere without African American voters.

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