Congress OKs Fair Sentencing Act



Congress OKs Fair Sentencing Act

WASHINGTON, The U.S. House Wednesday passed and sent to the president a bill bringing sentences in crack cocaine cases closer to those in powder cocaine prosecutions.

By a voice vote, the House gave final congressional approval to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which the Senate passed in March. The measure, which the White House says provides for the first reduction in federal mandatory sentences in 40 years, will go to President Barack Obama's desk for his signature.

Current law, in effect since 1986, provides for a minimum federal sentence of five years in prison for possession of five grams of crack and 10 years for 10 grams. Similar sentences in powder cocaine cases require possession of amounts of powder cocaine 100 greater than in crack cases, The New York Times reported.

The bill passed Wednesday raised the amount of crack cocaine necessary for the five-year minimum sentence to 28 grams and the amount for a 10-year sentence to 280 grams.

White House Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske said following the House vote the new law will "dramatically reduce a 100-to-1 disparity between trafficking offenses for crack and powder cocaine."

In a statement issued by the White House, Kerlikowske said there was no scientific basis for the disparity.

"By promoting laws and policies that treat all Americans equally, and by working to amend or end those that do not, we can only increase public confidence in the criminal justice system and help create a safer and healthier nation for us all," Kerlikowske said.

Harsher sentences for crack cocaine generally resulted in longer prison terms for blacks, while powder cocaine prosecutions tended to involve whites more than blacks.

Jamie Fellner, senior counsel in the U.S. program at Human Rights Watch, said the law "will dramatically alter the historically more punitive approach to federal crack cocaine offenders that led to racial disparities in sentencing."

"The racial disparities in sentencing that result from the current law are unconscionable," Fellner said in a statement.