New York Federal Criminal Practice Blog
March 18, 2008

EDNY Judge Lambasts Drug Equivalency Tables in the US Sentencing Guidelines

The Sentencing Guidelines' Drug Equivalency Tables come into play in cases involving more than one kind of drug, requiring that each drug be converted into a corresponding quantity of marijuana.  The process however, as the court noted in United States v. Molina, 06 CR 482 (JG), 2008 WL 544703 (EDNY, February 8, 2008), does not necessarily lead to proportionate calculation of offense levels.  In fact, the Drug Equivalency Tables can produce "bizarre" and "unjust" results, including rendering a defendant ineligible for the crack retroactivity amendment.  In Molina's case, which involved 72.1 grams of crack cocaine and 4.9 grams of cocaine, the "relatively trifling quantity of cocane" triggered the operation of the Equivalency Tables and a guideline range of 70 to 87 months, instead of 57 to 71 months had a much more complex "true equivalence method" been used.  Calling that disparity "unwarranted," the court urged district courts to be "vigilant for false equivalencies produced by the Drug Equivalency Tables."

What is especially noteworthy in this decision is the court's disdain for the Sentencing Commission's "underremarked but questionable decision to calculate sentences based mainly on drug quantity," quoting Jon O. Newman, The New Commission's Opportunity, 10 Fed. Sent. R. 44 (1997) ("A better system would recognize that role in the offense is a far more significant measure of culpability than quantity").  Notably, Judge Weinstin granted a below guidelines sentence on precisely this basis, see here

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