WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats on Tuesday rejected Attorney General Michael Mukasey's request to change new sentencing guidelines that would enable thousands of federal inmates to seek reductions in their crack cocaine sentences.
In testimony last week, Mukasey asked Congress to pass legislation by March 3 that would block or alter the U.S. Sentencing Commission's directive to apply the possibility for reduced sentences retroactively to people already convicted of crimes involving crack cocaine. The retroactivity could flood courts with applications for early release of thousands of violent criminals, the Justice Department says.
But Democrats and others have long sought ways to correct the fact that the law comes down on crack offenders 100 times harder than those convicted of crimes involving powdered cocaine, and blacks are disproportionately affected by the disparity.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., accused Mukasey of falsely suggesting that the new policy would automatically set free 1,600 violent offenders “to prey on hapless communities.”
“As the attorney general, himself a former federal judge, should have known ... no one can be released without a hearing before a federal judge who is obligated to evaluate each case and to consider factors such as the criminal history and violence,” Leahy said in a statement.
“We can't let such scare tactics by the administration deter us from our goal of achieving fairness and legitimacy in the criminal justice system,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
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