Justices Decide Crack Vs. Powder Disparity Is Unfair

Posted: 02/11/2008 04:14 PM EST

Posted Dec. 11, 2007 - Judges who believe lighter sentences are appropriate for some defendants convicted in crack cocaine cases now have the right to impose shorter terms.

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On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a vote of 7-2, found that a judge was proper in ignoring sentencing guidelines and giving Derrick Kimbrough 15 years in prison instead of the mandatory minimum of 19 to 22 years.

The far-reaching ruling could go a long way to reduce the wide disparity between sentences dealt for crack versus powder cocaine.

Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “A reviewing court could not rationally conclude that it was an abuse of discretion” to reduce by four years the sentence recommended for Kimbrough by the guidelines. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission recently altered the guidelines to narrow the gap in penalties between possession of crack and powder coke.

The new guidelines took effect Nov. 1. The commission will decide today whether the guidelines should be applied retroactively, which could effect 19,500 inmates who would be eligible to apply for reductions.

Between 1986 and 1988, Congress passed legislation that resulted in a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence for trafficking in 5 grams of crack cocaine or 100 times as much cocaine powder.

Seven in 10 crack defendants are given mandatory prison terms.

Did the justices make the right decision?

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