The Plank

The Supreme Court On Crack

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It's stellar news, no doubt, that the Supreme Court decided to let lower courts deviate ever-so-slightly from federal sentencing guidelines that, until now, have punished crack dealers as harshly as someone who sells 100 times as much powder cocaine. (Harlan Protass recently wrote a fine Slate piece summing up why the 100-to-1 disparity is such an outrage.)

But the disparity's far from gone: The defendant, Derrick Kimbrough, will get a 15-year sentence instead of 19 yearsstill more than he would've gotten for possessing powder cocaine. And the 100-to-1 ratio still applies to mandatory minimums, which are set by Congress: Five grams of crack gets treated like 500 grams of powder cocaineboth net five-year mandatory minimum prison terms. Since nearly 70 percent of all crack convictions result in minimum sentences, that's a huge deal. Above that level, judges now get more discretion, true, but only Congress can do away with the 100-to-1 disparity once and for all. (A few bills are floating around the House and Senate, sponsored by folks like Joe Biden and Orrin Hatch, but most politicians won't touch 'em.)

--Bradford Plumer

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