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Remembering the late singer Whitney Houston when she so famously told Diane Sawyer that "Crack is whack," the Sixth Circuit could not agree more. More specifically, the court would probably agree with the famous singer that the use of crack cocaine is "whack," but it's actually the old minimum sentencing rules that are really "whack."
This week the Sixth Circuit held that the Fair Sentencing Act should apply retroactively. The court held that to uphold the prior racially discriminatory laws would be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The court reversed the trial court judgment of two appellants, Cornelius Demorris Blewitt and his cousin, Jarreous Jamone Blewitt, for crack cocaine possession.
Their cases were remanded for resentencing applying the current Act.
The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was passed to restore fairness to federal cocaine sentencing that had once unfairly impacted African-Americans for almost 25 years. For example, one gram of crack was treated as being the equivalent of 100 grams of powder cocaine for purposes of sentencing. The Act lowered this unjustified ratio of 100:1 down to 18:1. Unfortunately for many inmates imprisoned before the Act took effect, their sentences remain the same under the new ratio.
Why does this disproportionately affect blacks? The old crack cocaine sentencing laws are widely known to be racially discriminatory. Crack cocaine was actually not predominantly used by blacks, but this group is the highest for being criminally prosecuted and sentenced for crack related offenses in the decades prior to the Act's enactment.
To put things into perspective, the appellants were sentenced in 2005 with mandatory minimum sentencing of ten years based on the quantity of crack they had possessed. If this were to occur today, their sentencing would not even be subject to any mandatory minimum sentencing. The amount they possessed does not fall into the lowest statutory minimum sentencing, which is 5 years for 28 grams of crack. You can see why the Blewitt cousins sought this appeal.
Our prison system is already overwhelmed at full capacity. With this recent court holding, we can anticipate that many inmates will also seek resentencing for their crack cocaine possession crimes under the Blewitt ruling. This may not thrill everyone, but some inmates have possibly already fulfilled their sentences. This ruling can lead to many nonviolent offenders being resentenced and released out of the crowded prison system.
Although some critics believe that this ruling may be appealed by the Justice Department, so called Blewitt claims could be in the works in in the meantime. This ruling, while it lasts, will surely keep some criminal defense attorneys busy for a while.