Crack crackdown challenged

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a district court judge's right to challenge federal guidelines in sentencing a man for possession of crack cocaine.

Derrick Kimbrough pled guilty in 2005 to possessing 92 grams of powder cocaine and 56 grams of crack cocaine, as well as gun possession. The amount of cocaine leaves no doubt that this was a drug dealer.

The district court judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, imposed a sentence of 15 years; significantly lower than the 19 to 22 years set in federal guidelines for the case.

Does this mean that Judge Ginsburg is soft on crime? Not really. Judge Ginsburg rightly decided that there should not be the wide disparity in sentencing guidelines for those who possess powder cocaine and those who possess crack cocaine.

The reason for the disparity is that crack cocaine is a form of cocaine that is more available and affordable for the masses than powder cocaine and therefore more of a threat to society.

However, both forms are addictive and the difference between the users tends to be that crack cocaine users and dealers are poorer, often black. While racism is not likely a factor in the disparity between how the law treats the two forms of cocaine, we should avoid any appearance of race or class disparity.

If a get tough policy is justified toward crack cocaine, it is justified against any form of cocaine.