Supreme Court: Crack Cocaine Sentencing Guidelines Not Mandatory

The Supreme Court handed down a decision today ruling that Federal courts do not have to follow the sentencing guidelines when sentencing convicted crack cocaine dealers. For years, federal guidelines have made the punishment for possessing large amounts of crack cocaine much harsher than that of powder cocaine. The basic criticism of this disparity is that crack is a largely urban-poor drug and most defendants tend to be minorities from these urban areas where as cocaine is more of a middle to upper class and white drug.

The original intent of such a disparity was, ostensibly, to provide harsher punishments for crack due to the high levels of violence involved in the crack trade. However, a lower appeals court ruled that courts must follow the guidelines strictly. This would prevent judges from considering a persons background and any other mitigating factors when applying a sentence. With such harsh guidelines that tend overly punish minorties it is nice to see, at least, that Judges still have some discretion. Of course, judges will still, largely, follow these guidelines until Congress acts to reduce the suggested mandatory sentences.

A previous post on sentencing guidelines can be found here.

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