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Crack Cocaine Sentences Invalidated by Federal Court in Georgia: There Is No Difference Between Cocaine Base and Cocaine


August 1994

On August 26, U.S. District Judge J. Owen Forrester invalidated sentences for manufacturing and distributing "crack" cocaine that are higher than those for cocaine powder (U.S. v. Ricky Davis, Criminal Action No. 1:93-CR-1234-JOF, August 26, 1994, N.D.Ga.). His opinion relied on the long-standing rule of law known as the rule of lenity. Under this rule, if there is an ambiguity in the law, it must be resolved in favor of the defendant. The ambiguity the court found is that "cocaine base," the term Congress used to describe crack cocaine, is chemically the same as "cocaine." After an evidentiary hearing with four scientific experts, the court concluded that, "... in the scientific community, the term "cocaine base" is synonymous with cocaine. In the scientific community, cocaine base has no other meaning" (slip op. 3). The court cited numerous statements from the Congressional Record of 1986 that strongly suggest that Congress knew that crack or cocaine base was cocaine, but did not rely upon legislative history for its ruling.