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Justices Review Disparities in Drug Sentencing

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Justices Review Disparities in Drug Sentencing

Law

Justices Review Disparities in Drug Sentencing

Justices Review Disparities in Drug Sentencing

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One year for powder but five years for rocks? On Tuesday, the Supreme Court hears arguments about sentencing disparities when it comes to cocaine and crack cocaine.

Dahlia Lithwick, with the online magazine Slate, who has been following the case, says that under the current sentencing guidelines, five grams of crack cocaine can result in five years in prison. However, it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to draw the same sentence.

The sentencing disparities began in the 1980s and were based on a lot of misinformation about crack cocaine and got wrapped up with the war on drugs, Lithwick says. The drug was considered much more dangerous that powder cocaine, so the sentencing commission made the punishment for possession much harsher.

And because most of the defendants accused of crack cocaine possession are urban blacks, and most defendants accused of powder cocaine are white, the sentencing differences also create racial disparities. White defendants, Lithwick says, generally receive lighter sentences than black defendants.

Lithwick talks to Madeleine Brand about the sentencing guidelines, as well as the recent revelations about the behind-the-scenes workings of the court and its justices.

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