University of Wisconsin–Madison

Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (Pub. L. 111-220)

After years of controversy, debate and inaction, the 100 to 1 disparity between sentences for crack and powder cocaine offenses has been greatly diminished by passage of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

As may be seen by the “Bill Summary & Status” report, the bill (S. 1789) passed both houses of Congress with surprisingly little debate, passing in the Senate by Unanimous Consent and a voice vote in the House.  Senators Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), and Representatives James E. Clayburn (D-S.C.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) are credited with advancing the bill.  President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (Pub. L. 111-220) into law on August 3, 2010.

Passage did not come without compromise, however, as the disparity in sentencing still exists, but the ratio is now 18 to 1 instead of 100 to 1.  A far cry from what it was.  Another significant change the law makes is to eliminate the mandatory minimum five year prison sentence for first-time offenders possessing crack cocaine.  The act as passed, though, does not apply retroactively as many advocates had hoped.

In its rulemaking capacity, the U.S. Sentencing Commission recently published “Notice of a Temporary, Emergency Amendment to Sentencing Guidelines and Commentary” (see also 75 FR 66188, Oct. 27, 2010) and a “Supplement to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual and Appendices” effective Nov. 1, 2010.  This amendment is intended to implement the changes mandated by the Fair Sentencing Act.  The Commission has also posted Public Comment Letters it received during the time the proposed amendment was under consideration.  Finally, according to the Commission’s News Release, “The Commission will consider a permanent amendment implementing the Fair Sentencing Act as part of its work during the coming year and will submit such amendment to Congress no later than May 1, 2011."

Submitted by Eric Taylor, Evening Reference Librarian on November 17, 2010

This article appears in the categories: Law Library

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