District Judge Reggie B. Walton marked the 20th anniversary of federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws for crack and powder cocaine crimes last year by calling for a reexamination of the controversial policy which he once advocated for in the late 1980s.
In the 1980s, Walton pushed for tougher sentences for crack cocaine cases as a top drug policy advisor to former President George H.W. Bush. To Walton and other drug experts, the perceived greater risk of addiction and the level of violence associated with the crack trade warranted a sentencing disparity where the sale of five grams of crack cocaine garners the same five-year prison term as selling 500 grams of powder cocaine.
However, in testimony before the U.S. Sentencing Commission last fall, Walton acknowledged he “never thought that the disparity should be as severe as it ultimately has become,” adding that it was “unconscionable” to maintain the current sentencing structure.
Walton is part of a growing push from judges, civil rights groups and lawmakers for sweeping changes to federal and state crack cocaine mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, which they say disproportionately affects blacks.
Several new bills addressing federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws have been proposed in Congress. States have also moved toward repealing or revising their versions of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. This fall, the Supreme Court is set to wade in on whether judges can issue lighter sentences than those called for under the federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. What’s more, the U.S Sentencing Commission, an independent expert panel charged with developing federal sentencing guidelines, recently issued its fourth recommendation that called on Congress to reform the laws.Read the article at Human Nature Magazine