Buting ,Williams & Stilling ,S.C. | A Criminal Defense Law Firm

Call Today for a FREE Consultation


Crack vs. cocaine: Correcting America’s drug sentencing problems

by | Jan 9, 2014 | Drug Charges

While the criminal justice system was designed to be fair and predictable, it does not always live up to this goal. This is especially true when it comes to the sentencing rules and guidelines for federal drug offenses. Drug laws have become exponentially stricter over the last few decades, fueled largely by zealous politicians who wanted to appear tough on crime.

As a result, non-violent drug offenders often receive disproportionately long prison sentences because of mandatory minimum laws and sentencing disparities that do not allow judges to use their own discretion. Recently, President Obama brought renewed attention to this problem by commuting the sentences of eight federal inmates who had been convicted for crack-cocaine offenses. Some say the President’s actions are a good start, but that thousands of other inmates deserve the same relief.

To better put this situation in context, you may need a brief history lesson. During the crack-cocaine panic in the 1980s, legislators passed sentencing laws based on the false belief that crack-cocaine was considerably more dangerous than powder cocaine. In reality, the difference between the two drugs had more to do with race and socioeconomic status than potency. Crack is cheaper and largely used in poor African-American neighborhoods. Powder cocaine is often considered a drug of the white and wealthy.

Nonetheless, the two drugs had a 100:1 sentencing disparity. In other words, someone convicted for possession of five grams of crack would receive the same sentence as another person in possession of 500 grams of cocaine. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the disparity down to about 18:1, but the two drugs are still sentenced differently and the changes were not applied retroactively to those already in prison.

The eight inmates who had their sentences commuted by President Obama were all victims of the 100:1 disparity and thus serving harsh and lengthy sentences. This was a step in the right direction, but there are thousands more inmates who suffered similar injustices and remain in prison. Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems to be opposed to retroactive application of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act.

America incarcerates more of its own citizens than any other country. This is, in large part, due to unjustifiably harsh sentences for non-violent drug crimes. Until or unless we change these laws and correct these injustices, America’s title as the “land of the free” will be a dubious distinction.

Source: The New York Times, “Crack Cocaine Limbo,” Linda Greenhouse, Jan. 5, 2013

Practice Areas

“I just want to say thank you for the outstanding work you have done for him and let you know how much we appreciate the time and attention you gave to his case. We are obviously overjoyed by today’s dismissal!” (Child pornography case dismissed after motion to suppress was granted)”

“After having had time to exhale, we thank each one of you and all the others who contributed to the exemplary Supreme Court presentation. We are proud of your efforts on our behalf and, equally important, on behalf of the many present and future defendants statewide.” (Client’s comment after Supreme Court oral argument)

“Thank you. Thank you. I am so pleased to hear that we won. It doesn’t seem that it was even a close call. I appreciate your efforts.” (Oconto County defendant after Buting, Williams & Stilling got his prison sentence overturned in the court of appeals) ”

“Your time and advice was appreciated more than words can express at a time when we really needed someone to guide us.” (Client)

“The outcome was amazing, one unavailable even under identical circumstances in probably 98 percent of federal courtrooms around the country. Separate and apart from the outcome, though, I am supremely impressed by your efforts on your client’s behalf. Your comments in support of the requested sentence were perfect in tone and, having now reviewed the extensive sentencing memorandum you filed, your work in that regard was exemplary as well. Your client was certainly fortunate to have you as his attorney.” (Local federal court attorney present at a sentencing)

“I can’t thank you enough, not only for all of the tireless work that you and your staff put into my case, but for telling me what I needed to hear, at a time when I absolutely had to hear it. I consider myself blessed for everything turning out the way it did, especially since I blindly picked you out of a phone book! You helped me, my family and friends in many more ways than the money ever could.” (Child pornography client)

“I think you will find that in any circles where Kathy’s name is raised, people will always respond positively and identify her as an extremely hardworking, knowledgeable and ethical lawyer who is timely and effective with any endeavor she takes on. These circles would include colleagues, friends, prosecutors, judges, professors and others who have crossed paths with Kathy. They would also include the many lawyers like me who have referred numerous cases to Kathy, invariably with positive feedback from the clients regarding her knowledge of their case, empathy, professionalism and fair-mindedness in addressing their concerns.” (Fellow attorney)

“Thank you for giving [our son] back to us. Wonderful work!” (Family of client accused of armed robbery after charges were dismissed)

“Yes, His perfect time and perfect place, you were a part of this plan. I almost didn’t hire you, but I took a step of faith trusting Him and look what happened? Praise God. Our Lord put you in your vocation for a reason, continue to help those He brings your way. May He bless you in ALL you do!” (Client who was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in a northwestern Wisconsin county. He was released from prison after attorneys got his conviction reversed.)

“I really cannot thank you enough for your past help. You really know your stuff. It is actually funny when I think about my other past attorney’s knowledge and then when I talk with you. It’s like night and day. You’re like a walking book of knowledge with a purpose-driven life. Thanks.” (Brown County client of attorney Buting)

“A year later and I still believe your defense is the single best example of lawyering I have ever seen.” (Television reporter commenting on attorney Buting’s defense of Steven Avery)

“You have a certain brilliance that makes me sure that when you talk, it is good information and I am in good hands. You tell it to me like it is even when the things you say are not always the things that I would like to hear. You keep it REAL!!!” (Brown County client)

“Thank you, thank you, thank you! I feel like this was one of the biggest blessings that happened in my life. I put this along with my children being born healthy and when I survived that horrific shooting. I appreciate everything you have done for me. I couldn’t ask for better lawyers. I want to say thank you to everybody at your firm. I owe you more than the fee you so rightfully deserve. … You gave me back hope. Thank you, man! Out of my 36 years … I have never seen such kindness before. I don’t know what I did to deserve this; I’m very thankful nonetheless. Thank you for giving me hope again. Thank you for your generosity. There are still some really good people around.” (Federal criminal appeal client)

“There is no other attorney I’ve ever even heard of I’d rather have as chief counsel and leader of my defense/appeals than Jerome Buting. You’re the best. Period.” (Dane County client)

“Your advice and counsel were greatly appreciated. We appreciate you taking the time on your Sunday and evenings to help us. We are SO happy about the results! Thanks again.” (Waukesha County client)

“Thank you again … for everything. Five and one-half years of commitment, so many ups and downs and an outcome like that. You did a GREAT job.” (Waukesha County felony drug offense client)