Drug Policy

Shorter Drug Sentences, Courtesy of the Supreme Court

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Speaking of crack sentences, today the U.S. Supreme Court, which two years ago declared the federal sentencing guidelines merely advisory, ruled by a 7-to-2 vote that judges are free to give defendants lower sentences than indicated by the guidelines because they disagree with the differential treatment of crack vs. cocaine powder. The decision does not apply to the mandatory minimum sentences set by statute, but it should result in shorter sentences for some crack offenders and smaller disparities in punishment between people caught with crack and people caught with cocaine powder.

Two other decisions issued today also will help ameliorate drug sentences. In one, the same seven-justice majority (with Alito and Thomas in the minority) said sentences that depart from the guidelines should be judged by "a deferential abuse-of-discretion standard." Applying this standard, the Court said a judge acted within his authority when he gave an entrepreneur who went straight after selling MDMA in college probation rather than the sentence of two and a half to three years recommended by the guidelines. In the third case, the Court unanimously held that receiving a gun in exchange for drugs does not amount to "using" a firearm in the course of a drug offense (which triggers a mandatory minimum sentence), although it had earlier held that receiving drugs in exchange for a gun does.

[via Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy

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  1. It becomes increasingly obvious that the only way to get anything out of the SCOTUS is to frame your issue in terms of judicial supremacy.

    That's the only thing they consistently support.

    I guess we should be happy for little things, though, because it seems like it's pretty easy to use the concept productively.

  2. Man, did I start my crack habit at the right time or what!

  3. Alito is goin 2 turn out 2 be a mega asshole

  4. Wow, it took 9 super-smart lawyer-types to figure out that using a gun as a tradable good shouldn't be treated differently than trading, say, a car or some gold. It's a good thing we have Zeus and family up there on Mt. Olympus to clarify these things for us mortals.

  5. Speaking of crack sentences...

    Oh shit, now they can sentence you for making cracks? This is my last post ever. Goodbye you Ron Paul morons.

  6. Hey sixstring! Edweirdoooo is posting under your name!

  7. Wow, it took 9 super-smart lawyer-types to figure out that using a gun as a tradable good shouldn't be treated differently than trading, say, a car or some gold. It's a good thing we have Zeus and family up there on Mt. Olympus to clarify these things for us mortals.

    There is the whole ongoing debate of whether money=speech that keeps these same people from filing unemployment claims

  8. BP-

    I'm going to get that little F'er! Now this is my last post ever.

  9. Interesting dissent by Clarence Thomas on the crack vs. powder cocaine thing -- he implied that Congress made the wrong policy decision, but that SCOTUS isn't in the business of remedying Congressional policy screwups so long as they're constitutional, and that the appropriate and least intrusive remedy was to give juries the discretion to decide if the sentence for crack cocaine was excessive.

    Disclaimer: Assuming I read all that legalese correctly, of course.

  10. prolefeed,

    I think it was circumstances outside the guidelines that Thomas wanted the jury to decide on, not the excessiveness of crack v powder.

  11. Don't smoke crack. It's a ghetto drug.

  12. Don't smoke crack. It's a ghetto drug.

    No doubt. They would be better off crushing some methylphenidate (e.g. Ritalin) and snorting it which gives a high not as inferior to cocaine as you might think, or so I hear. And, it's much more socially acceptable to be seen with some Ritalin than a rock of crack.

  13. adderall is much better than ritalin, recreationally. for treatment, i believe ritalin & concerta are superior.

  14. I prefer pixie stix and pencil shavings. They don't get you buzzed but all the kids in school will think your crazy.

  15. adderall is much better than ritalin, recreationally.

    Yes, I'd agree and I almost added that myself, but figured more people are familiar with Ritalin. Plain old straight dextroamphetamine sulfate is even better than Adderall but even less common I would think.

  16. prolefeed: "Interesting dissent by Clarence Thomas on the crack vs. powder cocaine thing -- he implied that Congress made the wrong policy decision, but that SCOTUS isn't in the business of remedying Congressional policy screwups so long as they're constitutional, and that the appropriate and least intrusive remedy was to give juries the discretion to decide if the sentence for crack cocaine was excessive."

    Actually, my reading of it showed that the Court judged the guidelines unconstitutional because it allowed the judge to add to the sentence based on circumstances or facts that were not proven beyond reasonable doubt to a jury (which clearly violates the 6th amendment). Thomas didn't argue against that, but argued that the appropriate remedy would be to simply demand that all facts weighed into sentencing must be proven to a jury, rather than say the Guidelines are "advisory."

    However, Thomas's dissent in this case concedes that he did previously accept the "advisory" precedent (Booker) in a previous case - his dissent in a Rita case. It's noteworthy because under stare decisis principles, such changes-of-mind aren't really supposed to happen.

  17. judges are free to give defendants lower sentences than indicated by the guidelines because they disagree with the differential treatment of crack vs. cocaine powder.

    ...until Congress fixes the disparity by upping the sentences for cocaine powder.

    Also, Jacob, consider yourself mocked for substituting "differential" where a mere "different" would have sufficed.

  18. fluffy
    this might be a stupid, and incorrect analysis on my part, and I have not read these decisions, but I did read the decision making the sentencing guidelines advisory and it seemed to argue AGAINST judicial power in that the problem with the guidelines mentioned was that it took fact finding that was used to "accentuate" the sentences and gave that power to the judge when it was supposed to belong to juries. So it wasn't so much a striking of the legislative punishment (which I think recent precedent would thwart, the 8th Amendment now pretty much does not have a "proportionataly requirement" that can be violated by sentences duly constituted by a legislature) but the legislature giving the judges powers that belonged to juries. I think that's a hard case for judicial supremacy.

  19. No doubt. They would be better off crushing some methylphenidate (e.g. Ritalin) and snorting it which gives a high not as inferior to cocaine as you might think, or so I hear.

    Plain old sudafed, if you wash off the red coating, then crush them up and snort the dust is pretty equivalent high, or so I heard from a friend of a friend...

  20. Hi, if anyone needs Ritalin

    just send a mail to

    brunnerm_82@gmx.at

    best regards

    Markus
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