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Abbreviated Sentences: Less Time for Drug Crimes

December 12, 2007

Lacey, WA – About 8,400 people in Washington were convicted last year of drug-related felonies, but only the federal sentences will get a second look after this week's U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The court ruled in two drug cases that judges should be able to impose shorter sentences, depending on the circumstances and individuals.

Joe Albritton of Renton served a prison sentence for drugs. He says the court's decision is encouraging, because it may mean more people who need help with addiction, will get it.

"It's cheaper to try to give a man help than to keep him locked up. You have a lot of people that are committing crimes, not because they're criminals, but because they're addicts."

The penalties for dealing crack cocaine have been much higher than for powdered cocaine. The Supreme Court decided on Monday that the sentencing disparity was unfair. Crack has typically been more prevalent among low-income drug users, and its powdered form has been more popular in a higher-income crowd.

David Boerner, the Seattle University law professor who chairs the Washington State Sentencing Guidelines Commission, says the ruling doesn't mean every drug case will be revisited.

"If they're serving a state sentence, it will have no effect. If they're serving a federal sentence, then it may or may not have effects, depending on whether the courts hold it retroactive. That's an issue people would have to deal with individually, case by case."

On Tuesday, the U.S. Sentencing Commission decided cases for current federal prisoners can be reconsidered in light of the new court ruling. Experts believe these decisions are the start of major reforms in drug enforcement and sentencing laws that were made in the 1980s.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA