No drug has moved faster through inner cities then crack cocaine, and similarly, no drug has been prosecuted with more vigor by law enforcement and the courts. Cocaine is considered a schedule-two narcotic, which means it is has been determined by the federal government to be both highly addictive and medically dangerous. Crack cocaine, a more dangerous and addictive form of the drug, has led to the imposition of harsher and a more diverse range of penalties.
Possession of Crack Cocaine – Disparity Between Federal and State Law
State drug laws have distinct penalties for both the possession and the sale of crack cocaine.
For crack cocaine possession, most states do not have quantity requirements, but do require increased penalties for possession of over 25 grams or more of crack cocaine. The following demonstrates the extent of penalty disparity of crack cocaine possession that exists between most states and the federal sentencing guidelines. For example, fines for the simple possession of crack cocaine, can range from $1,000 to $500,000 depending on whether it’s charged as a federal or state offence.
With respect to incarceration, simple possession of crack cocaine can range from 4 months to 10 years in jail.
Sale of Crack Cocaine – Disparity Between Federal and State Law
State drug laws have profoundly different penalties from federal laws with respect to prison terms and fines for the sale and trafficking of crack cocaine. Fines can range from $2,500 to $1,000,000. Prison terms can range from one year in county jail to life in prison. In many jurisdictions the use of a firearm in the furtherance of a drug felony, can carry an additional punishment of up to 15 years. In 1986, under newly enacted federal sentencing laws, possession of just five or more grams of crack cocaine was punishable by a mandatory prison term of five years. Many state jurisdictions followed this lead making the penalties for possession of small quantities of crack cocaine some of the most punitive in the nation.
Between 2005 and 2012, there were over twenty thousand felony cocaine convictions resulting in federal prison terms of ten or more tears. Over 90% of these felony cases involved the sale and distribution of crack cocaine. Under the early sentencing guidelines in which federal district courts were mandated to follow, a conviction for the sale of 50 grams or more of cocaine, would automatically add an additional ten years (or more) to the sentence. In 2008, the judicial sentencing committee, whose job includes overseeing the application of the federal sentencing laws, determined that prison terms for crack cocaine possession were both too long and too harsh.
As a result, the sentencing laws for mandatory prison terms for possession of crack cocaine were changed from ten years to eight. Although the change in the law was not intended to operate retroactively to previously convicted and sentenced crack cocaine offenders, thousands of convicted offenders who were sentenced under the earlier and harsher guidelines have been allowed to petition the appellate courts for purposes of reducing their original cocaine sentence.
For those convicted offenders who petitioned for a reduction in their sentence, over fifty percent of these petitions have been granted. If charged with simple possession of crack cocaine the defendant may qualify to participate in the judicial diversion process. More and more jurisdictions are relying on drug diversion programs rather then punitive prison terms for first time crack cocaine offenders.
Some jurisdictions even have special court divisions specially set-up to deal with such offenders. Diversion however does not apply if the charges include sale or distribution of crack-cocaine. To qualify for diversion, it usually requires that the cocaine possession be the defendant’s first and only serious drug offense. Whether or not the defendant will be eligible for diversion will depend on your jurisdiction, whether or not your case is charged as a federal or state offence, and the factual and legal circumstances of the case.