The Supreme Court has agreed to decide a sentencing issue with significant implications for thousands of inmates: whether a group of defendants who were sentenced for low-level crack-cocaine offenses before Congress enacted the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 are eligible for resentencing under the First Step Act of 2018, reports Scotusblog. The 2010 law reduced but did not eliminate the disparity in sentences for convictions involving crack and powder cocaine. The First Step Act made the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. The question the court will decide in a case called Terry v. United States is whether the changes made by the First Step Act extend to inmates convicted of the most minor crack-cocaine offenses.
In a friend of the court brief urging the justices to grant review in a case presenting that question, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers explained that the lower courts are divided on this question. Supreme Court review is necessary, the group wrote, “to prevent thousands of predominately Black defendants from being forced to spend years longer in prison than identically situated defendants” elsewhere in the country “and to ensure that Congress’s goal of alleviating the racial disparities in sentencing caused by the 1986 law’s harsh sentencing regime is realized.” The new case involves an appeal by Tarahrick Terry of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upholding a sentence of more than 15 years in prison for a crack cocaine offense and other charges.