US Court Rules Against Sentence Reduction For Low-Level Crack Offenders
The US Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that low-level crack cocaine offenders are not eligible to have their prison sentences reduced.
Sentences for crack cocaine offenders have been criticized as racially discriminatory but the nine justices on the nation’s highest court said they were not in a position to intervene.
The much harsher sentences handed out for crack cocaine over powder cocaine under tough 1980s war-on-drugs guidelines have been blamed for fueling the stark racial disparity in US prisons.
A gram of crack cocaine was treated like 100 grams of powder cocaine under a 1986 law.
Congress sought to address the disparity in 2010 by making the ratio 18 to 1, but it did not make the law retroactive.
In 2018, then-President Donald Trump signed the “First Step Act” which would apply the lesser sentences to those convicted between 1986 and 2010.
But it was not clear whether the relief applied to low-level offenders such as Tarahrick Terry, a Black man whose case went before the Supreme Court.
Terry, 33, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2008 for possession of 3.9 grams of crack cocaine.
He asked for a reduced sentence under the First Step Act but the court ruled that the law did not apply to his situation.
“Unfortunately, the text will not bear that reading,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a separate opinion. “Fortunately, Congress has numerous tools to right this injustice.”
Crack cocaine use was rampant in some African American communities at the time the law was passed in the 1980s, and Black men in particular were severely impacted by the harsher sentences.