Supreme Court rules low-level crack cocaine convicts don’t get new sentences under First Step Act

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that people with low-level crack cocaine convictions do not qualify for resentencing under the First Step Act.

The case involved a low-level crack cocaine offender who already had spent a decade in prison and whether he should get a chance for reduced sentences under the 2018 criminal justice legislation enacted under former President Donald Trump that strove to fix racial disparities in the sentencing of Black defendants.

Under a 1986 law passed by Congress, if a quantity of cocaine exceeded a certain amount, a judge was required to impose a longer sentence.

There was a disparity between the heightened sentences for powdered cocaine versus crack cocaine offenses, but since then legislatures have tried to narrow the gap, according to the high court.

More than 30 years later, the First Step Act allowed those individuals with longer sentences could receive new ones.

But the justices unanimously agreed that offenders who didn’t get a mandatory minimum sentence can’t qualify for a new or lower sentence.

“Petitioner’s offense is starkly different from the offenses that triggered mandatory minimums,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court.

The lawsuit was brought by Tarahrick Terry, who pleaded guilty in 2008 for possessing 3.9 grams of crack cocaine and was sentenced to about 15 years in prison.

Terry is set to be released in September, but he filed a petition for a reduced sentence after the First Step Act was enacted in late 2018.

Lower courts have been inconsistent on the issue. Some apply reduced sentences to different classes of offenders.

The Trump Justice Department had argued against the justices reviewing Terry’s case.

After the change in administrations, President Biden’s Justice Department switched sides and supported Terry’s position.

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