Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Federal Drug Sentencing Supreme Court Decision

On December 10, the United States Supreme Court issued a significant ruling affecting thousands of defendants convicted of possessing and selling crack cocaine. Defendants convicted of violating Federal criminal laws are subject to being sentenced according to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines are a set of sentencing rules and ranges compiled by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Federal Judges are required to adhere closely to the sentencing guidelines when sentencing defendants in Federal criminal cases. For many years, judges and lawyers have complained that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines are unfair in that they punish defendants convicted of crimes involving crack much more severely than defendants with powder cocaine. The result has been a racial disparity. An example of the unfairness in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines is that the mandatory minimum sentence for an amount of crack was the same as for 100 times that amount of powder cocaine. This was commonly known as the 100:1 drug ratio. The racial disparity occurred because roughly 85% of defendants convicted of crack offenses are black whereas most defendants convicted of powder cocaine offenses are white.

The Supreme Court finally agreed with this problem with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and ruled that Federal Judges could depart from the Guidelines and sentence defendants more fairly when dealing with crack cocaine. A few days later, the U.S. Sentencing Commission met and changed the Federal Sentencing Guidelines reducing the sentences of defendants convicted of crack offenses. The change is retroactive, meaning that after March 2008, roughly 20,000 defendants convicted of offenses involving crack will be able to petition their sentencing Judge to reduce their sentence. There are estimates that the average defendant will be able to have their sentence reduced by 27 months.

For more information about the Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Legal Defenders, P.C., visit us at www.thelegaldefenders.com or call us anytime at 1-800-228-7295.

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