Baylor Law Professor Continues Work to End 1:100 Sentencing Rule for Crack Cocaine

Feb. 11, 2010

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Baylor Law Professor Mark Osler has joined with the ACLU and other groups and individuals nationwide preparing a petition calling on the Obama Administration to commute the sentence of a grandmother serving her 17th year of a 27-year federal prison sentence for a first time, non-violent crack cocaine conspiracy offense.

Osler has conferred with the group supporting Hamedah Hasan in filing her petition - timed to President's Day, Monday, Feb. 15 - with the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of the Pardon Attorney in the effort to end the 1:100 ratio applied in sentencing crack cocaine offenders. The formula dictates that possession of one gram of crack is punishable with the same prison time as 100 grams of powder cocaine.

Osler has been involved personally in crack cocaine cases from the local jurisdiction level up to the Supreme Court. After graduating from Yale Law School, he served for five years as a federal prosecutor in Detroit during the height of the crack epidemic, prosecuting many crack dealers. After joining the Baylor Law School faculty in 2000, Osler began writing extensively about federal sentencing generally and crack cocaine specifically.

He has been personally involved in two Supreme Court rulings about crack cocaine. His work was quoted in 2005 by Justice John Paul Stevens in United States v. Booker, a crack case in which the Supreme Court struck down mandatory federal sentencing guidelines. In 2009, he was the successful lead counsel before the Court in Spears v. United States, in which the Court held that judges meting out sentences in crack cases could categorically reject the harsh sentencing guidelines the federal government had imposed.

The sentencing guidelines fall disproportionately on racial minorities and the poor, and create a disparity in sentencing. Moreover, the sentencing formula - developed hastily in 1986 after the highly publicized death of college basketball star Len Bias from a crack cocaine overdose - has been ineffective.

"Without Congressional hearings or expert analysis, this hastily created ratio drove many of the disastrous and ineffective policies about crack cocaine that have followed since," Osler says. "After spending billions of dollars and incarcerating millions of Americans, the price of cocaine on the street has gone down, not up, showing that supply has not been reduced relative to demand. The 1:100 sentencing ratio results in harsh mandatory sentences that have had little effect on reducing crime."

Complete information about the project, called "Dear Mr. President: Yes You Can," can be found on the group's web site.

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