U.S. Reps. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport News, and John Conyers, D-Michigan, sent a letter to President Barack Obama Tuesday seeking clemency for people convicted and sentenced for crack cocaine offenses.
Under prior law sentences for crack offenses were much stiffer than sentences for the powder cocaine by 100 to 1 ratio - meaning a sentence for five grams of crack cocaine was a mandatory five years, while it took 500 grams of powder cocaine to garner a five-year sentence. In 2010 that discrepancy was lessened to an 18 to 1 ratio under the federal Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which both Scott and Conyers worked for years in Congress to achieve.
Scott and Conyers - along with 20 other memebrs of Congress who signed the letter - are asking Obama to begin a process of reducing the sentences of felons convicted under the mandatory 100 to 1 ratio to terms compatible with the new sentencing laws.
"With the strong national consensus, including within the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary branches of the federal government, that the 100 to 1 sentencing ratio is unfair to crack defendants, it is unconscionable that we still have people serving mandatory sentences under the 100 to 1 ratio," Scott and Conyers wrote."Therefore, we are calling upon President Obama to exercise his constitutional clemency authority to right this wrong by setting up a process for according those whose sentence length is based on a mandatory sentence for a crack violation, a reduction equivalent to an application of the FSA 18 to 1 reduction."
Scott and Conyers suggested Obama take a page out of President Gerald R. Ford's book when he set up a commission in the mid-1970s to make recommendations on offering clemency for people who dodged the draft rather than fight in the Vietnam War.
"Without the President’s intervention through his clemency authority, men and women will continue to be held accountable to unfair sentences, some involving life imprisonment for non-violent crimes that resulted from romantic or familial relationships with other offenders, such as the so-called ‘girlfriend problem’ where the defendant was a bit player in the boyfriend’s drug offense," They wrote. "It is appropriate and necessary for the President to close this gap in fairness in the application of our drug laws.”