Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Should Justice Depend on a Date?

It does in this infuriating article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It's about Eric Brewer, a man unlucky enough to have committed his federal crack offense before the August 3, 2010 effective date of last year's Fair Sentencing Act.  In other words, too soon to get the benefit of the new law:

In December, Mr. Brewer pleaded guilty to aiding in the possession with intent to distribute five grams or more of crack-cocaine, worth a street value of about $500. He was sentenced Wednesday to five years in federal prison, a mandatory minimum penalty authorized by a defunct law.
If Mr. Brewer were arrested today in the same situation, he would face a guideline sentence of 46 to 57 months incarceration. A federal law enacted in August eliminated the 60-month mandatory minimum for defendants like him, raising the amount of crack-cocaine needed to trigger that punishment to 28 grams.
The Fair Sentencing Act was lauded for lessening the vast and racially tinged disparities between sentences for crack-cocaine offenders, more likely to be African-American, and powder cocaine offenders, more likely to be white.
The sweep of the new law did not catch Mr. Brewer, though, who was indicted before it was implemented. That conundrum has blindsided defendants across the nation since the sentencing act was passed, frustrating their lawyers and baffling their families.

The solution is for Congress to clarify that the new crack reforms apply to everyone, no matter when they committed their crack offense.