Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Supreme Court to Decide If Law Reducing Crack Cocaine Sentences Can Be Applied Retroactively

The Supreme Court will soon hear a case involving 2 men who were convicted, but not sentenced, before a federal law reducing sentences for crack cocaine offenses went into effect.

The men, Edwin Dorsey and Corey Hill, were convicted of federal crack cocaine offenses before the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 went into effect in August 2010. However, they had not been sentenced at that time.

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the disparity in sentencing between persons convicted for crack cocaine offenses versus powder cocaine offenses. Until the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was passed, the disparity in sentences for these offenses was staggering. There was a difference of 100 to 1 in sentencing for persons convicted of crack cocaine offenses, compared to those sentenced for powder cocaine crimes.

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 vastly reduced the disparity to 18 to 1. However, people like Dorsey and Hill, who had been convicted before the law went into effect, were left hanging in the pipeline, because they were believed to be ineligible for the new sentencing guidelines. A Chicago appeals court ruled that the 2 men were not eligible for the federal sentencing law to be applied retroactively to them.

The case has now gone to the Supreme Court, and next week, the Supreme Court Is expected to begin hearing oral arguments. Dorsey and Hill insist that they are eligible for lower sentences, because of the Fair Sentencing Act.

It seems very unfair to California criminal defense lawyers that the law has been applied retroactively to persons who had been sentenced before the law went into effect, but not for those whose sentences were pending at the time. Almost 12,400 prisoners have filed a motion seeking early release after the sentencing reductions were made retroactive in November. However, incomplete sentencing cases have been left languishing in the pipeline.