The Fair Sentencing Act was passed by Congress in 2010 and was expanded in 2018 to include compassionate release.
The original law increased the quantity of crack cocaine needed to trigger mandatory minimum prison terms.
Under the Fair Sentencing Act, people caught with five grams of crack cocaine must be sentenced to at least five years in prison but anything less than that does not automatically mean mandatory minimum prison time.
Before the Fair Sentencing Act, the mandatory minimum time in jail was 10 years.
Additionally, the Fair Sentencing Act eliminated the mandatory minimum sentence for first-time offenders found guilty of possession of less than half an ounce of crack cocaine.
Penalties vary for younger people. Federal law treats those aged 18 to 23 as juveniles. The federal law also means juveniles cannot receive life imprisonment or a death sentence.
The Act also:
- Established mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenders who have prior convictions
- Limited drug quantities that carry a five-year mandatory minimum penalty
- Limited circumstances where a court can impose a substantial assistance motion
What are the Benefits of the Fair Sentencing Act?
There are many benefits to the Fair Sentencing Act.
Obviously, the first benefit is that it offers leniency to first-time offenders and young offenders.
Additionally, it means people found with an amount of crack cocaine that’s likely only for personal use (it’s not enough to sell) won’t face the same penalties as those who intend to sell the drug.
Another benefit is that it reduces prison overcrowding.
Crack cocaine offenses are punished more harshly than powder cocaine crimes. The Act helps to reduce overcrowding in prisons by reducing the number of incarcerated individuals who are serving sentences for crack offenses.
Different forms of the same drug no longer result in harsher punishments.
The Fair Sentencing Act reduced the amount of crack necessary to receive a minimum penalty. This is good news for those who would previously have faced steep penalties, fines, and long prison sentences due to mandatory minimums.
Finally, since the majority of people arrested for crack offenses are African American, mandatory minimums resulted in vast racial disparities in the average length of sentences for comparable offenses. This means, in many cases, African Americans served as much time in prison for non-violent drug offenses as whites did for violent offenses.
The Fair Sentencing Act alleviates some of these disparities.
What are the Drawbacks?
As beneficial as the Act is, there are drawbacks.
For instance, the act only reduces the disparity between punishments for crack and powder cocaine crimes. It does nothing to reduce the penalties applied to crimes involving other drugs. Some want to broaden the benefits.
Some also believe that the Fair Sentencing Act increases the recidivism rate. Because so many people released from prison do not receive the support and resources needed to avoid committing further crimes, shortening someone’s sentence could lead to increased crime.
What benefits one person could create challenges for others and increase problems in the community.
If you or a loved one is seeking compassionate release from federal prison, we can help. We’ll schedule a consultation to discuss options and eligibility. If you are in need of an attorney for assistance with a new or ongoing compassionate release request, or any other criminal defense, post-conviction, or appeals issues, contact David Lindsey.