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Detroit Federal Criminal Defense Attorney Edward Bajoka Discusses the Disparity Between Cocaine and Crack Sentencing Guidelines

If you are a Federal Criminal Defendant facing drug charges involving crack or cocaine, you should understand the disparity in the Sentencing Guidelines for these two substances.

First, it’s best to understand what Sentencing Guidelines are and how they are used in court. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are non-binding rules that set out a uniform sentencing policy for those convicted of felonies and serious (Class A) misdemeanors in the U.S. federal courts system. A judge is not required to follow them, but does need to calculate them for use in determining a convicted criminal’s sentence. Considerations for sentencing include prior record and offense variables (in a drug case, for example, possession of 1 kg of cocaine vs. 10 kg).

In terms of the crack and cocaine Sentencing Guidelines, for a long period of time beginning in the 1990s, there was a huge disparity. Although the two drugs are essentially the same substance, with crack simply being put through some more chemistry, crack was rampant in the 90s and became a huge epidemic. At the time, the Sentencing Commission that establishes the Sentencing Guidelines decided on a 100/1 ratio for crack vs. cocaine crimes. So if you were convicted of selling 1 kg of crack and someone else was convicted of selling 1 kg of cocaine, your sentence had the potential to be 100 times worse than the other person’s.

There was a lot of concern that this change in the Sentencing Guidelines was racially motivated, since African Americans were the primary users and sellers of crack. This resulted in a backlash from sentencing lobbyists, the ACLU, and others who fought for more equal guidelines for crack and cocaine crimes.

In 2010, the Federal Government admitted that the 100/1 disparity was unconstitutional and unfairly targeted African Americans. The Sentencing Committee changed the Sentencing Guidelines from 100/1 to 18/1.

This resulted in many people who were still incarcerated for crack cases requesting a resentencing and asking the court to apply the 18/1 ratio versus the old 100/1 ratio that they were originally sentenced under.

But a strong Federal Criminal Defender with experience in drugs and narcotics cases can take that even a step further. In 2012, my client was caught selling crack. I argued to the judge that the court should apply a 1/1 ratio for crack vs. cocaine, because the 18/1 ratio is still unconstitutional. I argued that it is the same substance and just as addictive: It’s simply a matter of chemical changes to go from cocaine to crack.

The 18/1 ratio is still disproportionately unfair toward African Americans.

The judge agreed with my argument and gave my client the 1/1 ratio as opposed to the 18/1. Bajoka Law was able to obtain a probationary sentence versus the prison sentence that would have resulted if the 18/1 ratio was applied.


It pays to hire a law firm like Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Bajoka Law Group in Detroit when facing Federal Drug Charges. We understand the Sentencing Guidelines and can argue on your behalf.

Devon Deason