Supreme Court Rules Judges Can Lower Crack Sentences, Clarence Thomas dissents
On Monday the U.S. Supreme court extended the ability of federal district judges to set discretionary sentences in criminal cases. The court upheld a light sentence handed out to a crack distributor by a district judge in Virginia.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion of the 7-2 majority decision. Maybe this ruling will help move the American (In)Justice System towards a more balanced distribution of punishment.
David Stout of the New York Times gives a thorough review of the court's decision. Highlights from Mr. Stout's article.
- The majority concluded today that a district judge in Virginia acted properly in April 2005 when he refused to follow federal sentencing guidelines calling for far harsher penalties for trafficking in crack cocaine than they do for dealing in the powder form of the drug.
- Two decades ago, when the effects of the two forms of cocaine were less well understood, there was a collective assumption that crack cocaine was far deadlier, although subsequent studies have shown that they “have the same physiological and psychotropic effects,” as Justice Ginsburg put it.
- But the United States Sentencing Commission, created in the mid-1980’s to recommend appropriate federal prison terms and lessen wildly disparate sentences in cases of similar circumstances, provided punishments for crack cocaine that were far more severe than those associated with the powder — the same five-year minimum for possessing 5 grams of crack as for 100 times as much powdered cocaine, for instance.
- Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. were the dissenters today in Kimbrough v. United States…“Because the court’s decisions in this area are necessarily grounded in policy considerations rather than law, I respectfully dissent,” Justice Thomas wrote.
When I saw that there were 2 dissenters to the decision, I knew in my heart that Thomas was one of them. Thanks to African-American Political Pundit and Sylvia for the heads up.