Major Easing of Drug Laws Proposed by Federal Judicial Panel
A panel of 13 federal judges has proposed substantial easing of federal
drug sentences (Dennis Cauchon, "Judicial Panel Proposes Cap on Drug
Sentences: Prison Costs, Crowding Cited in Recommendation," USA
Today, 3/22/93, 2A).
The panel proposed that federal sentences for minor drug offenders be
capped at 13 years without parole. Such offenders are now subject to
maximum penalties of 30 years to life. In making the recommendations,
the panel cited the huge growth in the federal prison population and huge
increase in the average of federal drug sentences since 1987. In 1987, the
average drug sentence was two years. By 1991, that average had grown to
seven years. From 1987 to 1993 the federal prison population has grown from
slightly over 44,000 to 83,000.
The panel's recommendations were among a number of proposals considered
during U.S. Sentencing Commission hearings held on March 22. Other
proposals under consideration included:
- Revising the law so that crack cocaine offenses are punished on the
same weight basis as powder cocaine offenses. Today, crack offenses are
punished much more seriously. Most (92.6 percent) crack offenders
are black, while most (70.3 percent) powder cocaine offenders are
- Halting the practice of calculating sentences based on crimes for which
defendants are acquitted. Now, a defendant acquitted of selling a kilogram
of cocaine but convicted of selling a gram of cocaine may end up with a
sentence based on the entire quantity of drugs involved, not just the amount
in the charge of which he is convicted.
- Giving judges discretion to make reductions in sentence for cooperating
with authorities. Now, only prosecutors can request reductions.
- Bringing LSD sentences in line with other drug sentences, so that the
weight of the carrier is not counted as the weight of the drug. Because
a dose of LSD is so light, counting the weight of paper or some other carrier
can add decades to LSD sentences. As a result, many low-level offenders
have received, long, no-parole federal sentences.