Jasmine Tyler at 202-294-8292
WASHINGTON, DC- As the holiday season approaches, and President George Bush’s term comes to a close, a broad coalition of 29 civil rights, religious, academic and justice organizations have asked the president today to commute excessive sentences for low-level crack cocaine offenses.
“Scripture reminds us that justice in the courts is a means of healing to society and families,” said Bishop Jane Allen Middleton from the Central Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“Yet the disparity on sentences currently being handed down between crack and powder cocaine has unfairly targeted African-Americans and the poor,” she said. “While legislation is needed to equalize these sentences, granting clemency to some of those serving unusually long sentences will send a much needed signal that our criminal justice system can and should be a means of healing to society and reunifying families separated by excessive incarceration.”
Prior to taking office in 2001, President Bush signaled support for reforming the controversial sentencing disparity for cocaine offenses. In a CNN interview, he said the crack-powder disparity “ought to be addressed by making sure the powder-cocaine and the crack-cocaine penalties are the same.”
Under current law, defendants convicted with as little as five grams, the weight of two sugar packets, are subject to a federal mandatory minimum sentence of five years. Offenses involving the pharmacologically identical powder cocaine do not trigger a five year mandatory minimum until a defendant sells 500 grams of the substance, 100 times the quantity of crack cocaine.
In 2007, the U.S. Sentencing Commission lowered the sentencing guideline range for crack cocaine offenses because the penalties were considered excessive. They also voted to apply the guideline reductions to people currently incarcerated for crack cocaine offenses but the sentence reductions were limited by the mandatory minimum sentences that only Congress can amend.
According to today’s letter to Bush, the president’s “clemency power is the only opportunity to advance immediate reform. By granting commutations to people who have already served long sentences for low-level crack offenses, [the president can] bring deserving citizens home for the holidays.”
Former U.S. Pardon Attorney Margaret Love has noted that “the president’s personal intervention in a case through the pardon power not only benefits a particular individual, it reassures the public that the legal system is capable of just and moral application.” And, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has urged that the pardon process be “reinvigorated” to respond to “unwise and unjust” federal sentencing laws, stating that “A people confident in its laws and institutions should not be ashamed of mercy.”
Today’s letter to the president was also joined by a petition urging clemency for crack cocaine offenses signed by over 700 people.