Recent Broward Law Blog Features

Friday, January 23, 2009

Federal Inmates Winning Reductions of Crack Cocaine Sentences

This is a summary of a news report from this week's Birmingham Times.

Federal inmates in Southern jails who have petitioned courts to reduce their prison sentences on crack cocaine offenses were successful at least 55 % of the time, shaving an average 2½ years off their terms. The highest success rate of the three states making up the 11th U.S. Circuit was in Alabama, according to an analysis of statistics in a recent report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission....

By the thousands, inmates are petitioning federal courts for reduced sentences. According to the sentencing commission's report, 17,168 applications have been filed nationwide, and 12,119 - 70 percent - had been granted through Dec. 8, the latest statistics available. Inmates nationwide also are getting an average reduction of 2½ years.

According to the sentencing commission's report, 402 of the 602 applications filed in Alabama federal courts, 66 percent, have been approved. Georgia was next with 65 percent of its applications granted. Florida, which had the most applications filed with 1,895, granted 55 percent, the analysis by The Birmingham News showed.

"A majority of who were eligible for relief, got it," said Cynthia McGough, chief federal probation officer in Birmingham. "Only a few were turned down on merit where a judge reviewed the facts of the case and thought the person should not get relief. Some were released from prison because, after the reduction, they got credit for time served."...

Crack cocaine - a cheap way to get an exuberant high - had become a phenomenon. Congress responded by passing a stringent law that produced what is called the 100-to-1 ratio. Get caught with five grams of crack - enough to fill five Sweet'N Low packets - and get a mandatory five-year prison sentence. It would take 500 grams of powder cocaine to get the same sentence. Federal prisons quickly filled with low-level street dealers.

In December 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that judges can impose shorter sentences for crack cocaine, and the sentencing commission decided to make the new crack cocaine sentencing guidelines retroactive.

There is no word yet whether Mike Satz will divert a number of his senior staff to help federally incarcerated inmates with their applications.

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