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Lesser Sentence For Crack Distribution Upheld

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I’m guessing Bean will have more to say about this, but the Supreme Court today held in a 7-2 decision that lower court judges are permitted not to apply federal sentencing guidelines (including, in this case, guidelines that mandate much harsher sentences for trafficking crack than powder cocaine) so long as the sentence is reasonable. In this case, Ginsburg wrote that considering the gross disparity of sentences for similar offenses was something judges could take into account. One of the dissents was (predictably) from Alito, the other, somewhat surprisingly given his record on sentencing cases, was from Thomas. If I understand Thomas’s dissent correctly, he objects to the Court’s decision in Booker — a decision that saved the federal sentencing guidelines from Sixth Amendment violations by reading them as advisory — but as long as it’s in force (and he recognizes it as valid under statutory stare decisis) the guidelines should be considered mandatory.

The majority makes the much more convincing case. If the guidelines being advisory means anything, it’s that federal judges should have some measure of discretion in applying them, and in this case there were perfectly rational reasons for a reduced sentence.

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