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Sixth Circuit Rejects Racial Disparity Challenge To Crack Cocaine Sentences, Reverses Panel That Applied Fair Sentencing Act Retroactively

By Christopher Zoukis

On December 3, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, sitting en banc, rejected a challenge to the federal crack cocaine sentencing regimen that had been held unconstitutional in May by a three-judge panel of the Court.  By a 10-7 margin, the full court ruled that the crack cocaine sentences handed down to two black defendants, withstood review for racial disparities under the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution.  The Court also ruled that Sentencing Guidelines relief from mandatory minimum sentences provided by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, Pub. L. 111-220, 124 Stat. 2372, would not be applied retroactively under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2).  United States v. Blewett, Case No. 12-5226, 5582 (6th Cir., 12/3/12)(en banc).

The en banc court reversed a controversial decision by a three-judge panel of the same court that equated the federal crack cocaine sentencing regimen with “slavery and Jim Crow laws,” and vacated the sentences of two black defendants as violation of the equal protection clause. See United States v. Blewett, 719 F.3d 482, 493 (6th Cir. 2013), vacated (July 11, 2013).

The en banc court ruled that the Blewett defendants’ claim of an equal protection clause violation, due to the crack sentencing laws having a disparate effect on blacks, failed because prior decisions of that court had already addressed the issue, see, e.g., United States v. Williams, 962 F.2d 1218, 1227 (6th Cir. 1992), and that an Eighth Amendment concern over the length of their sentence were negated by Supreme Court decisional law that had upheld far more onerous punishments for drug dealing than the 10-year sentences imposed on Cornelius Blewett and his cousin, Jarreous Blewett. See Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957, 965 (1991)(upholding life-without-parole sentence for 672 grams of cocaine).

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Valley State Prison Inmates Receive Degrees, Certificates

Staff Report – Merced Sun-Star  Valley State Prison / Image courtesy www.cdcr.ca.gov

Inmates at Valley State Prison last week took a step toward a brighter future.

On Nov. 6, 125 graduates from the Valley State Adult School at Valley State Prison walked down the aisle to receive recognition and their diplomas for their hard work and dedication. This is a big event in the lives of the inmates trying to benefit from a bad situation. Valley State Prison converted from an all-female facility to a level II male facility in January. It has been the focus of Principal Zack Patrick to provide a solid and successful educational experience for the new male population. From the beginning of the conversion, education and vocational training was a focal point for Patrick and Warden Ron Davis.

“Many of the inmates are tired of the negative lifestyle that landed them in prison and want to take steps to correct their behavior. Today 125 men took that first step to better serve themselves through education,” said Davis. “I want to thank Mr. Patrick and his team of quality educators for inspiring these men to succeed.”

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