By Adam Klasfeld, Courthouse News Service
More than a decade into his 18-year prison term, a man hammered by disproportionate crack cocaine penalties can try to benefit from recent drug sentencing reform efforts, the Ninth Circuit ruled Monday.
Tyrone Davis was one of tens of thousands of predominantly black men saddled with lengthy sentences because of legislation punishing crack cocaine offenses 100 times more harshly than those involving powder cocaine.
The Anti-Drug Abuse Act, a remnant of former President Ronald Reagan’s so-called “War on Drugs,” was passed in 1986, two years after crack use started surging across U.S. cities.
From its inception, critics denounced the law as racist for its lopsided effect on people of color. Crack cocaine is chemically similar to its powder form, but it has been perceived as more popular among black recreational drug users.
Statistical analysis has since undermined this popular prejudice.
A 2006 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration noted that white people use crack cocaine in larger numbers, but black people are disproportionately arrested and convicted for its usage.
Despite ongoing criticism, the statute remained on the books for more than two decades. It was still in effect when Davis pleaded guilty to distributing at least 170.5 grams of crack cocaine in 2005.
U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton, a George W. Bush appointee, sentenced Davis on the higher end of the 188- to 235-month federal guidelines range a year later.
In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced…