Monday, December 10, 2007

Crack Sentences Can Be Reduced

While not actually ruling on the constitutionality of the 100:1 rule regarding powder cocaine versus crack cocaine, the Supreme Court did rule this morning that federal sentencing guidelines can be ignored by trial judges, restoring a semblance of judicial discretion at the trial level.

Via SCOTUSblog: "The Supreme Court on Monday gave federal judges new authority to set sentences for crack cocaine crimes below the range of punishment set by federal guidelines — a major restoration of flexibility for trial judges in drug cases. It 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. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the decision in Kimbrough v. U.S. (06-6330).

"The ruling validates the view of the U.S. Sentencing Commission that the 100-to-1 crack v. powder cocaine disparity may exaggerate the seriousness of crack crimes...The decision does not mean that crack cocaine crimes must be punished the same as powder cocaine crimes, but it does allow trial judges to disagree with the Guidelines’ much heavier recommendations for punishment of crack crimes.

"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.”

As many law profs are already blogging, the rulings today seem to solidify the Booker/Apprendi decisions over the past seven years which have slowly chipped at away at the constitutionality of sentencing guidelines in an attempt to allow judges to be judges. That it's taken over 20 years to get here is a debate for another day.

More analysis at SCOTUSblog, Corrections Sentencing, and a justice by justice interpretation at Sentencing Law & Policy.

More on the 100:1 disparity and the U.S. Sentencing Commission here.

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