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Dorchester man serving life under draconian Reagan-era crack law has sentence reduced; could be out by fall

A federal judge who sentenced a Dorchester man to life in prison in 2006 under a law passed at the height of the Reagan-era crack panic reduced his sentence this week to 216 months, which means he could be freed later this year, about 16 years after he was first put behind bars following his arrest.

At the time, federal law required that the equation used to determine sentences for crack possession be weighted 100 times that of cocaine-powder possession. Following Earl Dickerson's conviction on possession of nearly 58 grams of crack with intent to distribute and possession of another 11 grams of crack and for being a felon in possession of a firearm, US District Court Judge Rya Zobel had no choice but to impose a mandatory life sentence.

But in 2010, Congress passed a law that dramatically reduced the crack enhancement in the sentencing guidelines used by federal judges. In 2018, Congress passed a law making the new calculations retroactive to people convicted under the Reagan-era law.

Dickerson, who was arrested March 9, 2014 in his apartment on Westcott Street in Dorchester, had lost previous appeals for a sentence reduction, appealed under the new laws.

Even federal prosecutors agreed he should have his sentence reduced - although in a memorandum to Zobel, the US Attorney's office in Boston said he should still spend another 13 years in prison. Prosecutors said that even without the mandatory life requirement at the time, Dickerson would have faced a sentence of between 40 years and life "based on his designation as a career offender and an armed career criminal, as well as his extensive criminal history" - which included four state cocaine-distribution convictions in the 1990s.

Dickerson's attorney argued he should be released immediately, that 16 years locked up was enough punishment and that Dickerson, now 46, is a changed man - he realizes he did wrong and that he wants to settle down and care for his children and grandchildren.

Mr. Dickerson realizes the high cost of his past mistakes. His focus now is on his family, and on his successful reintegration into society. His family has offered him a residence in Wilbraham, owned and occupied by the father of Mr. Dickerson's niece, and the U.S. Probation Department has approved the residence.

Zobel, who had held numerous hearings on Dickerson's case between his sentencing and her ruling Tuesday, ordered that in addition to having his sentence reduced, Dickerson undergo drug treatment and testing and mental-health counseling and that he receive "life and vocational skills" training somewhere closer to Massachusetts than Pollock, LA, where he is currently an inmate at a high-security prison. She also ordered him to eight years of probation.

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Comments

Sentencing someone to life for crack is insane, even when compared to the behavior of an active crack user. People can and do recover.

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That this includes mental health and vocational support. If only we had more of that in the system to begin with..

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He’ll be selling drunks again in no time.

An no I’m saying he should serve a life sentence, just that you can’t teach an old bog new tricks.

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You can, and I see it happen every day

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yesterday's crack panic = today's opiod panic

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the crack epidemic was problematic, but the panic caused by it was more rooted in racism than by direct deaths caused by the drug. the opiod crisis more or less snuck up on us because for years people were turning a blind eye to (white) people getting hopped up on oxys until their doctors cut them off and they turned to heroin.

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a relative unwillingness to prescribe opiates for people of color, but I think the race aspect is secondary to profit motive. Not to mention medically assisted treatment for addicts who can afford to pay.

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doubleposted

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There needs to be a serious review of people convicted of drug sentences from decades ago. People arrested for personal use should be freed. Any pot conviction needs to be thrown out.

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Later, a little-noticed provision in the law (crafted by Sen. Joe Biden D-DE and Sen. Lawton Chiles D-FL) came to be viewed as one of the most racially slanted sentencing policies on record: a rule that treated crack cocaine as significantly worse than powder cocaine and ended up disproportionately punishing African Americans.

To cite only the "Reagan-era" in the headline seems to mislead (intentionally?) those reader's who may be unaware that the "brains" behind this racist law were its architects, Democrats Joe Biden (D-DE) and Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-FL). Best of luck to Mr. Dickerson on the second chance granted to him during the "Trump-era."

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