FAMM Applauds U.S. Supreme Court for 5-4 Ruling for Crack Offenders

Decision Ends Use of Old 100:1 Crack Sentences Once and For All

WASHINGTON, DC:  Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that so-called crack “pipeline” defendants will be sentenced under the new, fairer 18:1 crack cocaine sentencing ratio.  The ruling affects federal crack offenders facing mandatory minimums who committed their crimes before the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (FSA) was signed into law on August 3, 2010, but were or will be sentenced for those crimes after that date.  The cases decided are Dorsey v. United States (11-5683) and Hill v. United States (11-5721). http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/11-5683i7k8.pdf  

Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer noted that applying the old law sentences "would create disparities of a kind that Congress enacted the . . . Fair Sentencing Act to prevent."

Julie Stewart, president and founder of FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums), made the following statement in reaction to the ruling:

“We are thrilled with the Court’s decision. We considered it patently unjust to make these pipeline defendants serve longer sentences under a scheme that was completely repudiated by Congress.  As the Court found, doing so would have flouted the will of Congress, which called on the U.S. Sentencing Commission to lower crack cocaine sentences “as soon as practicable” after the FSA was signed into law.    Especially exciting is the fact that Justice Breyer’s opinion for the majority recognized that people who were sentenced after August 3, 2010 to an old law sentence are eligible to seek relief in federal courts.”  

For years, judges, members of Congress, FAMM and the U.S. Sentencing Commission railed against the unfairness of these sentences and the staggering racial disparity caused by the structure.  Over 80 percent of defendants sentenced to the longer crack cocaine sentences were black.

In 2010, Congress reduced the sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1 by raising the amounts of crack cocaine needed to trigger the five- and ten-year mandatory minimum sentences.  Congress told the Sentencing Commission to lower the federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses quickly and no later than 90 days after enactment.  

Prior to the FSA, defendants convicted of crack cocaine offenses were subject to the same sentences as defendants who dealt 100 times more powder cocaine.  For example, courts were required to sentence a person convicted of distributing five grams of crack cocaine to five years in prison.  Powder cocaine offenders (dealing in an identical drug in a different form) would not receive a five year mandatory minimum unless they distributed 500 grams of cocaine. 

But some judges continued to sentence people after the FSA to old law sentences, believing that Congress had not intended the law to apply to defendants facing mandatory minimums whose conduct took place before the FSA but who were sentenced after it.

The Supreme Court’s majority opinion found that Congress clearly indicated its intention that the new law sentences apply. 

FAMM participated in the cases decided today  by joining an amicus brief that explained why it was so important that the courts apply the new, shorter mandatory minimum sentences to those in the pipeline. http://www.famm.org/Repository/Files/FINAL11-5683%20-5721%20tsac%20The%20American%20Civil%20Liberties%20Union.pdf   

The 5:4 decision was authored by Justice Stephen Breyer with a dissent by Justice Scalia, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, and Alito.  The Department of Justice sided in the case with defendants Hill and Dorsey. 

To learn more about FAMM, visit www.famm.org   or contact Monica Pratt Raffanel at (202) 822-6700 or media@famm.org .  FAMM is a national organization that supports fair and proportionate sentencing laws that allow judicial discretion while maintaining public safety.

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FAMM is a national, nonprofit organization working for fair and proportionate sentencing laws.