Monday, December 10, 2007

Crack Up, Crack Down

NEWS ALERT from The Wall Street Journal Dec. 10, 2007

The Supreme Court said judges may impose shorter sentences for crack cocaine crimes, enhancing judicial discretion to reduce the disparity between prison terms for crack and cocaine powder.

In a separate sentencing case that did not involve crack cocaine, the court also ruled in favor of judicial discretion to impose more lenient sentences than federal guidelines recommend.

In a third case, the court unanimously refused to broaden the impact of a law that adds extra prison time to the sentences of drug traffickers who use a gun in carrying out their crimes.

Is it possible some sanity has slipped into federal sentencing guidelines? Is it possible for judges to recognize that drug addiction, specifically crack addition, is a medical problem rather than a criminal problem?

Here's hoping the federal government is on its way to embracing a humane perspective on illicit drugs, drug abuse and drug treatment. However, it's not yet clear what new limits exist. Can judges effectively decriminalize convicted crack buyers/users by reducing their sentences to time served up to their convictions? Or must they impose a minimum period of incarceration?

Meanwhile, using a gun in the commission of a felony should raise the penalty stakes. Even 22-caliber handguns have the stopping power to kill victims. Thus, a victim looking into a gun barrel is facing possible death, even if he/she surrenders to the felon's demands for ATM cards, cash, jewelry or other objects of value. Pro football player Sean Taylor died a few weeks ago because the bullet that struck him hit his femoral artery, the major artery in his thigh. He died from blood loss, which could have happened due to a wound from a 22-caliber bullet striking him or due to a 9 mm slug tearing through his leg.

To use a gun -- a device capable of killing a human target -- to scare innocent victims into submission and compliance should lift the penalty. A felon facing sentencing for a crime committed with the use of a gun should serve as much time as one convicted of attempted murder with a deadly weapon. Stiff sentences should apply even if a felon does not fire his weapon during the commission of a crime. Long lock-up times are the best protection against subsequent crimes committed at gun-point.


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