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Crack Law Details

Posted by on July 19, 2011

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 19863 establishes the basic framework of statutory penalties currently applicable to federal drug trafficking offenses. With respect to cocaine offenses, the Act specifies separate statutory ranges for trafficking offenses involving various quantities of crack cocaine and powder cocaine.

Prior to August 3, 2010, for a first-time trafficking offense involving less than five grams of crack cocaine or less than 500 grams of powder cocaine, the statutory penalty range was zero to 20 years of imprisonment.

For a first-time trafficking offense involving five grams or more of crack cocaine, or 500 grams or more of powder cocaine, the statutory penalty range was five to 40 years of imprisonment.

Cocaine Powder

Cocaine Powder

For a first-time trafficking offense involving 50 or more grams of crack cocaine or 5,000 or more grams of powder cocaine, the statutory penalty range was 10 years to life imprisonment. Because it took 100 times more powder cocaine than crack cocaine to trigger the same statutory mandatory minimum penalties, this penalty structure was commonly referred to as the “100-to-1 drug quantity ratio.”

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 19885 also established a mandatory minimum
penalty for simple possession of crack cocaine. Prior to August 3, 2010, the statutory penalty range for first-time simple possession of five grams or less of crack cocaine was not more than one year of imprisonment. The statutory penalty range for first-time simple possession of more than five grams of crack cocaine was five to 20 years of imprisonment. The statutory penalty range for first-time simple possession of powder cocaine, regardless of the quantity, was not more than one year of imprisonment.

The Commission responded to the 1986 Act by incorporating the statutory
mandatory minimum sentences into the guidelines and generally extrapolating upward and downward to set guideline sentencing ranges for all drug quantities. Offenses sentenced under the primary drug trafficking guideline involving five grams or more of crack cocaine or 500 grams or more of powder cocaine were assigned a base offense level 26, which corresponds to a sentencing guideline range of 63 to 78 months for a defendant in Criminal History Category I.7 Similarly, offenses involving 50 grams or more of crack cocaine or 5,000 grams or more of powder cocaine were assigned a base offense level 32, which corresponds to a sentencing guideline range of 121 to 151 months for a defendant in Criminal History Category I. Crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses for quantities above and below the mandatory minimum penalty threshold quantities were set proportionately using the same 100-to-1 drug quantity ratio.

In order to account for the statutory mandatory minimum for simple possession offenses involving more than five grams of crack cocaine, the Commission included in the guideline for simple possession offenses a cross-reference to the drug trafficking guideline for offenders who possess more than five grams of crack cocaine.

crack cocaine

Crack Cocaine

In 2007, the Commission amended the Drug Quantity Table  for
offenses involving crack cocaine. The amendment, which became effective November 1, 2007, reduced by two levels the base offense level assigned by the Drug Quantity Table for each quantity of crack cocaine.10 Pursuant to the amendment, offenses involving five grams of crack cocaine were assigned a base offense level of 24, which corresponds to a sentencing guideline range of 51 to 63 months for a defendant in Criminal History Category I and includes the applicable five-year (60 month) statutory mandatory minimum. Similarly, offenses involving 50 grams of crack cocaine were assigned a base offense level of 30, which corresponds to a sentencing guideline range of 97 to 121
months for a defendant in Criminal History Category I and includes the applicable tenyear (120 month) statutory mandatory minimum. In addition, USSG 2D1.1 was amended to include a mechanism to determine a combined base offense level in a case involving crack cocaine and other substances.  (In this memorandum, these amendments are referred to collectively as the “2007 Crack Cocaine Amendment.”)

In 2007, the Commission voted to give retroactive effect to the 2007 Crack
Cocaine Amendment pursuant to the statutory authority discussed below. The retroactive application of the 2007 Crack Cocaine Amendment took effect on March 3, 2008, and was governed by the statutory provisions and guideline policy statements discussed in Part I.C. of this memorandum.

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