CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, March 3, 2008

Crack Convicts Could Be Released

From New sentencing guidelines were expected to lead Monday to the early release of more than a dozen federal inmates convicted on crack-cocaine charges.

Approximately 1,600 federal inmates are currently eligible to ask a court to reduce their sentences because of December's decision by a federal agency to make retroactive reduced sentences for some crack-cocaine related convictions.

The decision was based on the stark difference in terms handed out for crack convictions versus those convicted on charges for powder cocaine.

Judges could reduce sentences for nearly 20,000 inmates following the decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission -- an independent federal agency that advises all three branches of government on sentences. Advocates of the sentence reduction say it is only fair, but the Justice Department counters and says that the move will allow dangerous criminals back on the street.

The Justice Department is concerned "that so many people would be released all at once -- people who have shown that they are repeat offenders, and without the possibility of any kind of transition or re-entry program to bring them from prison back to the streets," Deborah Rhodes, an associate deputy attorney general, told CNN.

But lawyers and groups that have been pushing for the change in sentencing disagree. They say that most of these prisoners are not hardened criminals, and that judges will have to approve any reduction on a case-by-case basis and will not grant an early release to those considered dangerous.

"Judges have a lot of discretion," Virginia public defender Michael Nachmanoff told CNN. His office filed 16 motions for early release and expects at least four of his clients to be set free Monday, with some others going to halfway houses. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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