Friday, February 22, 2008

Crack and Retroactivity

Two somewhat unrelated, but not entirely, reports out concerning judicial retroactivity and crack sentencing.

On retroactive decisions, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 Wednesday that "state courts are free to give criminal defendants the benefit of new constitutional developments, even when federal courts would be foreclosed from doing so."

It's a case more about federalism and the relationship between the states and federal constitutional interpretation, but is interesting in its basic implication, as noted by Justice Stevens in the majority:

“The federal interest in uniformity in the application of federal law does not outweigh the general principle that States are independent sovereigns with plenary authority to make and enforce their own laws as long as they do not infringe on federal constitutional guarantees." Thus retroactivity of a federal or SCOTUS ruling is up to the states within their own legal systems.

The case is Danforth v. Minnesota (2008).

The second report comes from the U.S. Sentencing Commission which, not surprisingly, noted that most of the 1500 or so crack cocaine defendants who may be eligible for release from federal prisons are "small-time dealers or addicts who are not career criminals and whose charges did not involve violence or firearms."

"The figures are at odds with the characterization of the inmates by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, who would like Congress to pass legislation voiding the U.S. Sentencing Commission policy before it takes effect March 3."

As I noted previously, "On the whole, there is little evidence indicating that the aspect of the War on Drugs which focused predominantly on crack cocaine over the past 25 years has been wholly gang-related."

And the Sentencing Commission has basically echoed that assertion in its analysis.

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