Disparity in Sentencing for Crack Cocaine Offenders: the U.S. Supreme Court Speaks

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I previously authored a post entitled "Disparity in Sentencing and Crack Cocaine."  Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed this same issue in two different cases.  The result was a resounding win for both defendants. 

In his blog entitled "Sentencing Law and Policy," Professor Douglas A. Berman summarizes the two cases as follows:

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the federal guidelines on sentencing for cocaine violations are advisory only, rejecting a lower court ruling that they are effectively mandatory. Judges must consider the Guideline range for a cocaine violation, the Court said, but may conclude that they are too harsh when considering the disparity between punishment for crack cocaine and cocaine in powder form. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the decision in Kimbrough v. U.S. (06-6330)....

Ruling in a second Guidelines case, Gall v. U.S. (06-7949), the Court — also by a 7-2 vote — cleared the way for judges to impose sentences below the specified range and still have such punishment regarded as “reasonable.” The Justices, in an opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens, told federal appeals courts to use a “deferential abuse-of-discretion standard” even when a trial sets sets a punishment below the range. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., announced the opinion in Stevens’ absence.

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