Supreme Court Makes Major Decision for Drug Offenders

Supreme Court Makes Major Decision for Drug Offenders

( – Sometimes, laws don’t turn out as expected when applied to real-world situations. A case in point is a series of laws dealing with cocaine sentencing.

On Monday, June 14, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that individuals convicted of possessing fewer than 5 grams of crack or 500 grams of powder cocaine are not eligible to receive sentence reductions for convictions before 2010.

Before 2010, federal law treated convictions for crack cocaine more harshly than those for possession of powder cocaine. Federal statute 21 U.S.C. § 841 carried three tier levels of punishment for convictions for crack cocaine.

The first two tiers carried mandatory minimum sentences for possession of specific quantities of the drugs. The third tier mandated no minimum quantity or sentence.

In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act to narrow the powder and crack cocaine possession sentencing gaps. Then, in 2018, Congress passed the First Step Act, which applied the Fair Sentencing Act to Tier I and II convictions under § 841. The First Step Act allows crack cocaine offenders to seek reduced prison sentences — but it turns out that only applies to those caught with more than 5 grams.

Tarahrick Terry filed a lawsuit seeking to reduce his 16-year sentence for a 2008 arrest conviction under Tier III for possessing a small quantity of crack cocaine. Since the Fair Sentencing Act doesn’t apply to Tier III convictions, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed his case.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a concurring opinion noting that a bipartisan group of sponsors of the Fair Step Act urged the Court to grant the relief sought by Terry. Sotomayor wrote that “unfortunately,” the law does not provide that interpretation, and she called on Congress to “right this injustice.”

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