New York Law School

Archive for December, 2007

Supreme Court Addresses Unfairness in Crack Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

In early December the Supreme Court delivered its opinion in Kimbrough v. United States, effectively restoring drug sentencing discretion to district court judges. The decision permits judges to deviate from federal Sentencing Guidelines, giving lighter sentences in drug cases, including in situations where the judge feels the Guidelines create an unjust result.

Derrick Kimbrough, a Persian Gulf war veteran, pled guilty to two counts of possessing and distributing more than 50 grams of crack cocaine in Norfolk, Virginia. Combined with his criminal record (misdemeanors only) and a weapons charge that carried its own mandatory five-years, the recommended sentence for Mr. Kimbrough was 19-22 years in prison. This sentence is based on Federal Sentencing Guidelines which recommend the punishment for crack cocaine be 100 times that for powdered cocaine. The federal district court judge sitting in the case, Judge Raymond A. Jackson, called the recommended sentence “ridiculous” and refused to impose it. He sentenced Mr. Kimbrough to 15 years. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned Judge Jackson’s discretionary sentence, ruling that trial judges act unreasonably if they decline to follow sentencing guidelines based solely on a desire to “avoid the sentencing disparity caused by the 100 to 1 ratio.” Read more