SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes is seeking to relieve outdated sentencing for low-level cocaine offenses in a new letter to Congress.
Reyes and District of Columbia Attorney General, Karl Racine, are leading of group of 25 attorneys general asking Congress to reform the sentencing laws that disproportionately affect low-level cocaine offenders.
“When Congress changed the law that treated crack cocaine and powder cocaine differently, we made great progress in addressing racial inequality in the criminal justice system,” says Attorney General Reyes. “Unfortunately, the sentencing reforms left the lowest-level offenders behind. Very often, these sentences often disproportionately affect persons of color, further undermining the stability of families in minority communities. We are urging Congress to extend these reforms to these offenders so they too may seek relief.”
This move addresses two pieces of legislation – The Fair Sentencing Act and The First Step Act.
The Fair Sentencing Act was passed in 2010 to reduce the disparity between sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses. However, the law did not help the many people sentenced for crack cocaine before 2010, who remained in prison.
The First Step Act was passed in 2018 with bipartisan support and sought to correct injustices caused by the earlier crack cocaine versus powder cocaine sentencing rule.
The earlier rule punished users and dealers of crack cocaine much more harshly than users and dealers of powder cocaine, which disproportionately harmed communities of color, according to officials. That rule’s sentencing standards have since been discredited.
The First Step Act included a provision that made previous drug sentencing reforms retroactive, allowing those serving harsh sentences under the previous law to seek relief.
In the letter, Reyes and other attorneys general are asking Congress to bridge the gap between the two pieces of legislation to ensure that sentencing relief will apply to low-level offenders.
Reyes believes these offenders should not be serving sentences using standards that are no longer accepted and have been discredited.