Strange but true: The Clinton administration and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, actually agree that the U.S. Sentencing Commission is dead wrong in trying to lower base penalties for crack cocaine to match those for powder cocaine.

But Brigham Young University law professor Michael Goldsmith - a member of that commission - defended the proposal in hearings Thursday, although he too says the commission may have gone a bit too far.U.S. Sentencing Commission Chairman Richard P. Conaboy said it was trying to correct a situation in which someone would have to sell 100 times more powder cocaine than crack to receive as stiff a penalty under guidelines for federal judges.

"If one sells five grams of crack, for example, the current law provides for a minimum five-year sentence. Someone selling powder cocaine would have to sell 500 grams to receive the same five-year penalty," Conaboy said.

But both Hatch and Assistant Attorney General Jo Ann Harris said during hearings before Hatch's Senate Judiciary Committee that such differences are justified.

"Crack cocaine is a killer drug that is far more related to inner-city violence than any other single drug, and it is more addictive than powder cocaine," Hatch said.

Harris added, "Crack is simply the more dangerous form of the drug. Because of the way it is consumed, small quantities of crack can be very dangerous."

She urged the committee to adopt administration proposals to overrule the sentencing commission's guideline amendments before they would otherwise take effect on Nov. 1. Hatch said he is inclined to make changes before that deadline.

But Conaboy said only the base penalties for crack are proposed to be lowered - and that final penalties should be about the same because additional punishment is allowed for aggravating factors such as selling to minors, use of guns, drive-by shootings, prior criminal records, injury resulting from the drug and other factors.

"Sentences for crack cocaine offenders, on average, would remain significantly higher than sentences for powder offenders," Conaboy said.

BYU's Goldsmith said he agreed that the 100-to-1 quantity difference for base sentences between crack and powder cocaine sentences was too high - but that putting them on equal footing also went too far.

He suggested a 5-to-1 difference in quantities for equal penalties to take into account aggravating factors not easily measured in the list approved by the commission.