Joins a bipartisan coalition of 25 attorneys general calling on Congress to extend existing penal relief to anyone convicted of minor crack cocaine offenses
Sept. 5, 2021 – OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta joined a bipartisan coalition of 25 attorneys general last week to urge Congress to amend the First Step Act of 2018 ensure that sentence relief extends to anyone previously convicted of minor crack cocaine offenses. The First Step Act enacted a number of reforms to the sanity of the criminal justice system, including retroactive relief for those convicted under the now discredited criminal case, which treated cracked and powder cocaine radically differently under the law. However, following a recent ruling by the US Supreme Court, some individuals convicted of minor crack cocaine offenses categorically remain ineligible for re-conviction. The coalition urges Congress to amend the First Step Act to clarify that its retroactive legal protection applies to anyone convicted under the previous regime.
“We cannot undo the damage caused by the failed war on drugs, but we can demand change.” said Attorney General Bonta. “Today, a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general is doing just that. People wrongly sentenced to decades of imprisonment for minor crack cocaine offenses deserve relief under the law. They deserve a chance to rebuild their lives. We urge Congress to make this possible by ensuring that the First Step Act applies to everyone. All of our communities are entitled to equal justice under the law. “
Congress passed the historic First Step Act to modernize the criminal justice system and made major reforms in areas such as corrections, criminal charges, community re-entry, and beyond. As a result of a unique bipartisan consensus, the law was passed with overwhelming support from organizations across the ideological spectrum as well as over three dozen attorneys general who supported the law as a vital tool in strengthening our criminal justice system and better serving the people of our country. One of the most important pillars of the First Step Act was criminal law reform. That reform included Section 404, which provides retroactive relief to those convicted of the discarded “100-to-1 crack cocaine to powder cocaine ratio” that Congress rejected through the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act. This earlier legislation made the 100th ab-to-1 ratio, reflecting the overwhelming consensus that treating crack cocaine and cocaine powder differently exacerbated racial inequality in the criminal justice system and resulted in unduly heavy penalties for low-level crack users. The First Step Act built on the Fair Sentencing Act, in particular to enable retroactive penal relief.
In Terry v. The United States, the Supreme Court concluded that while Section 404 clearly empowered certain individuals convicted of intermediate and high level crack cocaine offenses to seek re-convictions, certain individuals who convicted of minor offenses did not grant relief. As a result, these individuals are now the only ones convicted among the earlier crack cocaine doses that are categorically ineligible for the historic relief of the First Step Act. In today’s letter, the bipartisan coalition calls on Congress to fill this gap. There is no reason why these people – and only these people – should continue to serve prison sentences influenced by the now discredited crack-to-powder ratio.
In sending the letter, Attorney General Bonta joins the Attorney General of the District of Columbia, Utah, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Guam, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico. New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
A copy of the letter can be found here.
Source: CA. DOJ