Court seems split on when to apply new sentences

Apr 17, 2012, 5:34 PM

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court seemed split Tuesday on whether criminals who were arrested but not yet sentenced for crack cocaine offenses should be able to take advantage of newly reduced sentences.

Corey A. Hill and Edward Dorsey were arrested in 2007 and 2008 for selling crack cocaine and faced mandatory 10-year sentences in Illinois. However, the men were not sentenced until after the Fair Sentencing Act went into effect in August 2010. That law reduces the difference between sentences for crimes committed by crack cocaine and powder cocaine users.

The men argued on appeal that because their sentences came after the law’s effective date, they should get its lesser prison time. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago disagreed, and they appealed to the Supreme Court.

Their lawyer argued to the justices that Congress would not have then expected judges to use outdated laws to sentence people, knowing it was about to change. “Why would Congress want district courts to continue to impose sentences that were universally viewed as unfair and racially discriminatory?” lawyer Stephen Eberhardt said.

Several justices questioned whether Congress made it clear when it wrote the law that the Fair Sentencing Act was intended to be retroactive. But Justice Department lawyer Michael Dreeben said there were no “magic words” for Congress to use in the law to make its intention clear.

“To impose a sentence under outmoded guidelines will foster irrationality in sentencing and would be contrary to the goal of consistency in sentencing,” Dreeben said.

The Justice Department originally argued that the men should not get the lesser sentences but changed its mind before the case made it to the Supreme Court.

Several of the justices noted how controversial the crack cocaine sentencing laws were. “I’ve been a judge for nearly 20 years, and I don’t know that there’s one law that has created more controversy or more discussion about its racial impact than this one,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

But Justice Antonin Scalia said they can’t let the controversial aspect of the law weigh on their decision. “Let’s talk about text, not … about the emotions of Congress,” he said.

Lawyer Miguel Estrada, invited by the court to defend the appeal court’s decision, noted that allowing Hill and Dorsey to use the new sentencing structure and not others may not be fair.

“People who committed the same offense on the same date and may have done so with each other, we would expect to get comparable punishment if they were comparably situated as to criminal history, and the solution that’s being urged undermines that,” he said.

“But you have to draw a line someplace and that’s inevitable that some people are going to fall on one side,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

Justices will make a ruling before the end of June.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

A currency trader walks by the screen showing the foreign exchange rate between U.S. dollar and Sou...
Associated Press

Asian shares mostly lower after pessimistic ‘tankan’ survey

TOKYO (AP) — Asian benchmarks were mostly lower on Friday, echoing a decline on Wall Street, after a quarterly report by Japan’s central bank rekindled worries about the world’s third largest economy. Shares fell in Tokyo, Seoul, Sydney and Shanghai. Markets were closed in Hong Kong for a holiday. Recent data suggest global growth is […]
1 hour ago
FILE - WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for ...
Associated Press

Trial for US basketball star begins in Moscow-area court

MOSCOW (AP) — U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner is set to go on trial in a Moscow-area court Friday, about 4 1/2 months after she was arrested on cannabis possession charges at an airport while traveling to play for a Russian team. The Phoenix Mercury center and two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist could face up […]
1 day ago
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a joint news conference with Indonesian President Joko Wid...
Associated Press

Putin’s week: Facing NATO expansion, West’s unity on Ukraine

It has not been an easy week for Russian President Vladimir Putin. He took his first foreign trip since the invasion of Ukraine to shore up relations with troublesome Central Asian allies. He watched as NATO declared Moscow its main enemy and invited Russia’s neighbors Sweden and Finland to join the alliance. And he was […]
1 day ago
FILE - Reveler carry a LTBGQ flag along Fifth Avenue during the New York City Pride Parade on Sunda...
Associated Press

Same-sex couples updating legal status after abortion ruling

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Emails and phone calls from same-sex couples, worried about the legal status of their marriages and keeping their children, flooded attorney Sydney Duncan’s office within hours of the Supreme Court’s decision eliminating the constitutional right to abortion. The ruling last week didn’t directly affect the 2015 decision that paved the way […]
1 day ago
FILE - Reveler carry a LTBGQ flag along Fifth Avenue during the New York City Pride Parade on Sunda...
Associated Press

Same-sex couples updating legal status after abortion ruling

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Emails and phone calls from same-sex couples, worried about the legal status of their marriages and keeping their children, flooded attorney Sydney Duncan’s office within hours of the Supreme Court’s decision eliminating the constitutional right to abortion. The ruling last week didn’t directly affect the 2015 decision that paved the way […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Several police officers wounded in eastern Kentucky shooting

ALLEN, Ky. (AP) — Several police officers were shot and wounded while trying to serve a warrant in eastern Kentucky on Thursday, authorities said. A suspect was taken into custody and at least one person was killed, Floyd County Sheriff John Hunt told WYMT-TV. The sheriff’s department described the shooting as “deadly” in a Facebook […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
...
Christina O’Haver

BE FAST to spot a stroke

Every 40 seconds—that’s how often someone has a stroke in the United States. It’s the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, with someone dying of a stroke every 3.5 minutes.
...
Arizona Division of Problem Gambling

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling provides exclusion solution for young sports bettors

Sports betting in Arizona opened a new world to young adults, one where putting down money on games was as easy as sending a text message.
Court seems split on when to apply new sentences