GREATER HARTFORD -- Members of the General Assembly have finally
approved a bill that would end the disparity in sentences for
those convicted of possession of crack cocaine and powdered
cocaine and could help put more emphasis on getting treatment
for drug addicts. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives
on a vote of 92-52 and won passage in the Senate by a 21-15
Gov. M. Jodi Rell, whose office said she is studying the bill,
should have no reservations about signing it into law.
Legal experts, including Chief State's Attorney Christopher
Morano, have for years advocated equalizing the sentencing rules.
Opponents of the bill are mostly Republicans. They have argued
over the amount of crack as opposed to powdered cocaine that
should be set as the level for similar penalties.
That's no reason to veto the bill as a number of Republican
lawmakers have urged.
Current law specifies that a person arrested for selling or
possessing a half gram of crack, a refined form of cocaine, faces
the same mandatory minimum sentence of five to 20 years in jail
as someone who sells or possesses an ounce of pure cocaine.
Under the approved bill, a person would have to possess an ounce
of crack to trigger the same penalty. The Republican alternative
that failed to win approval would have set the amount of crack
or powdered cocaine that would prompt that sentence at half an
ounce (14 grams).
Few defendants are convicted under the current crack statute.
But prosecutors use its tough penalties to intimidate scores
of street addicts - people who really should be in treatment
centers and mental hospitals - to plead to reduced charges that
carry a mandatory minimum sentence of three years jail time.
The practice contributes appreciably to prison crowding and to
the state's costly corrections budget.
Mrs. Rell should sign the bill.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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