Prosecutors worry convicted crack dealers could be released in Southeast Missouri

Monday, April 21, 2008

SIKESTON, Mo. -- A recent change in federal sentencing guidelines may be fair but the result for local communities is convicted drug dealers back out on the street.

On March 3, the possibility of sentence reductions for certain crack cocaine offenders became effective due to a retroactive policy change by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

"Apparently there's been a ruling out of federal courts that the crack sentencing guidelines needed to mirror sentencing guidelines for cocaine and meth," said Scott County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Boyd.

There are now over 100 petitions pending for reduced sentences just at the Cape Girardeau federal court, according to Boyd.

"I think Southeast Missouri is going to see a lot of the old faces that were put away for crack cocaine," said Andrew Lawson, a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area prosecutor who works drug cases in Scott, New Madrid and Mississippi counties.

Lawson said according to his preliminary research, "the eastern district in Missouri ranks in the top 10 nationally for folks eligible for release under those sentences."

Boyd said he agrees that everybody should be treated fairly by the law but has concerns about what kind of effect an influx of convicted crack dealers back into the local community will have.

"What are these individuals going to do when they get back?" he asked.

Boyd noted these crack dealers are definitely not small-time dealers.

"The feds just don't pick up the small dealer cases," he said, "only mid-level and above."

Lawson said with the legislature having passed laws targeting pseudoephedrine, an ingredient used in the "manufacture of methamphetamine, crack is the most prominent drug we prosecute."

Boyd said crack is easier to sell and more profitable than powder cocaine.

It is easier, he explained, because it is in a solid form rather than powder, and more profitable because other less-costly substances are added to cocaine to make it into crack.

"Crack is definitely an ongoing issue in Southeast Missouri," Lawson said.

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