U.S. Supreme Court
High Court Allows Judges to Cut Crack Sentences Due to Policy Disagreement
Posted Jan 21, 2009 12:08 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that federal judges may depart from federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine simply because they disagree with the harsh sentencing policy.
The 5-4 unsigned summary decision in Spears v. United States clarified a 2007 ruling allowing sentencing departures in crack cocaine cases, SCOTUSblog reports. Under the federal guidelines, sentences for crack cocaine offenses are 100 times greater than for powder cocaine.
Some lower courts had misinterpreted the 2007 ruling as holding judges could not depart from sentencing guidelines simply because they disagreed with the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity.
“We now clarify that district courts are entitled to reject and vary categorically from the crack-cocaine guidelines based on a policy disagreement with those guidelines,” the court said in its opinion (PDF).
Three of the dissenters disagreed with the decision to address the issue in a summary ruling, according to SCOTUSblog.