The Constitutionality of Crack Cocaine Sentencing: Past Challenges and Directions for Future Research

Scott R. Maggard, University of Florida

With the implementation of the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988, Congress differentiated between two forms of the same drug for the first time in history. The new laws created stiff mandatory minimum sentences for crack and powder cocaine cases, with a 100:1 ratio in sentencing between the two forms of the drug. In other words one need possess 100 times the amount of powder cocaine as crack cocaine to receive the same mandatory minimum sentence. This legislation has resulted in unprecedented racial disparities in enforcement, sentencing and incarceration rates. Several defendants have challenged their sentences based on equal protection/due process arguments, but to no avail. This paper aims to provide a brief overview of the creation of these laws and the social contexts surrounding that process. It will also provide background on cases that have unsuccessfully challenged these laws, and provide suggestions for how social science, and criminology in particular, may contribute to cases challenging these laws in the future.

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Updated 05/20/2006