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Supreme Court Set to Make Landmark Decision

This month the U.S. Supreme Court will make a major decision that will affect many involved in the justice system for crack cocaine crimes. Previously, the laws guiding disciplinary actions for crack cocaine were vastly different than those in effect for possession of powder cocaine.

The sentence for having a portion of crack cocaine was the same as a sentence for having 100 times that weight in the powder form of the drug. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 has changed the balance of the law and the resulting sentencing guidelines. The disparity is now 18 times to one and the law came into effect in August of 2012.

Anyone arrested for the crime before this date is still currently at the hand of the old law, serving a sentence more severe than those who commit a crime after the August 2012 date. Congress has, in effect, recognized the law as unfair through this legislation and now the courts face a tough decision.

A man pleaded guilty in June 2010 to having five and a half grams of crack cocaine in his possession. His sentence is for ten years based on the old law. Under new law, that sentence would instead be for three or four years. Similarly, a different man was convicted in 2009 for selling 53 grams of crack cocaine in 2007. This man was sentenced after the new law came in effect, but under the standards of the old law.

These cases present a difficult decision, where the Supreme Court can have a huge impact on many involved in the justice system for crack cocaine possession. Most feel this law had racial and class-based implications. The old law has been deemed unfair, but Congress has failed to state if the new law can apply to cases retroactively. This decision by the Supreme Court means the difference between years in prison for many inmates.

Source: NY Times, "Justices to Decide on Fairness in Drug Sentences", Adam Liptak.

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