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American Bar Association Endorses Sentencing Commission's Crack Cocaine Guidelines Amendments


October 1995

The House of Delegates of the American Bar Association endorsed in principle the U.S. Sentencing Commission's Sentencing Guidelines Amendments establishing equity between powder cocaine and crack cocaine, and assigning greater weight in drug offense sentencing to factors such as weapons use, violence, or injury to another person. Meeting in Chicago at the ABA's annual meeting, there was strong support for the resolution in the House of Delegates, the association's policymaking arm.

The resolution was originated and sponsored by the Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities. Additional sponsors included the Section on Criminal Justice, the Steering Committee on the Unmet Legal Needs of Children, and the Special Committee on the Drug Crisis. Not sponsoring, but voting to support the resolution was the Judicial Administrative Division.

The resolution and accompanying report were drafted by Eric E. Sterling, coordinator of the National Drug Strategy Network and a member of the ABA Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities. Key support was provided by the Section's Committee on Criminal Justice which is chaired by Virginia Sloan, a Washington attorney. Critical assistance was provided by the outstanding professional staff of the American Bar Association, especially Penny Wakefield, the Director of the Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities, and Kevin J. Driscoll, Senior Legislative Counsel in the Office of Governmental Affairs.

Several members of the House of Delegates, of course, carried the load in House. Most important was Terence MacCarthy, the Federal Defender for the Northern District of Illinois, based in Chicago. MacCarthy is one of the most respected members of the Association. (At the annual meeting, MacCarthy gave a standing-room-only, specially showcased lecture on the science of cross examination.) Jack Driscoll, a prominent Boston lawyer, has served as the Chairman of the Special Committee on the Drug Crisis, and was an early, influential advocate for the resolution. Father Robert F. Drinan, a former member of Congress, and internationally acclaimed law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center was the official sponsor of the resolution as the representative of the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities in the House of Delegates. Very important support was also provided by U.S. District Judge Norma L. Shapiro, from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who is an extremely important member of the American Bar Association House of Delegates.

Gregory S. Smith, an Assistant Federal Defender in Atlanta, GA and a representative of the Georgia Bar to the ABA House of Delegates provided additional expertise. Smith has litigated numerous crack cocaine cases. He is the lead attorney in a challenge to the definition of cocaine base pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, U.S. v. Vuong, Nos. 94-9263, etc. that is to be argued in late October. These delegates were critical to the resolution's passage. And even though they were very busy with many other important matters at the meeting, they were all extremely gracious in assisting Eric Sterling in his first effort to get a resolution adopted by the House of Delegates.