Sentence Reduction Requests Pour in After Crack Law Change

Effort to close gap between cocaine, crack sentences at hand

Twenty-seven Maryland residents have been released early from prison following a change to sentencing guidelines last year in an effort to close a gap in penalties for crack and powder cocaine.

Another 113 crack offenders have won sentence reductions, ranging from one month to almost five years, but remain incarcerated, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission intially estimated that only 279 Maryland residents would be eligible for a sentence reduction under the new guidelines, but officials said more than twice that amount have requested that their sentences be reduced, and more requests continue to come in.

Oftentimes, sentences related to crack offenses are much longer than cocaine penalties. The amended guidelines to close the gap took effect last November.

U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein says the unexpected caseload is a significant use of resources but hasn't obstructed his office's other work.

An inmate may request that his or her sentence be reduced but will have to go through a process to determine if he or she is eligible. The inmate's lawyer submits a motion that outlines the inmate's sentencing details, educational and job accomplishments in prison, and a post-release plan. The U.S. Attorney’s Office sometimes responds with reasons why the person should not be cut loose just yet. The judge makes the final decision.

As of Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office had received 598 petitions: 140 have been granted, 117 have been denied, and more than 300 have to be adjudicated.

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