IACP Letter on Powdered vs. Crack Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

March 18, 2002 Judge Diane Murphy Chair, United States Sentencing Commission One Columbus Circle, N.E. Suite 2-500 South Lobby Washington, DC 20002 Dear Judge Murphy: As President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, I am writing to express my gratitude for your invitation to appear before the U.S. Sentencing Commission to discuss proposed amendments to the current sentencing guidelines. Unfortunately, I will be attending the IACP’s 19th European Executive Policing Conference in Budapest, Hungary and therefore unable to appear in person. However, I would like to take this opportunity to share my views on the current sentencing guidelines for crack and powdered cocaine. For over thirty years, I have served as a law enforcement officer, executive and police chief in the Metropolitan Miami area. During that time, I have repeatedly witnessed the devastation and horror suffered by families and communities as a result of the sale and use of crack and powdered cocaine. Both of these illegal substances are closely associated with crime, violence, death and destruction, and therefore, individuals who participate in the sale or use of these drugs should be punished to fullest extent of the law. However, federal law mandates a minimum sentence of five years for first-time possession of more than 5 grams of crack, but allows probation for possession of the same quantity of powder cocaine. It takes possession of 500 grams of powdered cocaine to trigger the same 5-year mandatory minimum sentence. As a result of the 100 to 1 ratio between crack and powdered cocaine, concerns have been raised over a seeming disparity in the penalties for crack and powdered cocaine. While I understand these concerns, I do not believe that the Sentencing Commission should take any steps that would weaken the existing penalties for possession and sale of crack cocaine. Rather, it is my belief that the current threshold limits for powdered cocaine should be reduced so that they more closely track those for crack cocaine. In this fashion, the commission would achieve the goal of reducing or eliminating any disparity between crack and powdered cocaine, while at the same time ensuring that those who participate in the sale and use of these illegal narcotics are penalized in a manner appropriate to the crime they commit. Once again, I appreciate the opportunity to provide the Commission with my views on this important issue. Please contact me if you have any questions. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Sincerely, William B. Berger President