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Claiborne v. United States

Court Type: U.S. Supreme Court
Last Update: December 18, 2006

What's at Stake

Whether federal district court judges have discretion, in appropriate cases, to impose shorter prison terms than the Sentencing Guidelines suggest based, in part, on the unduly harsh consequences of rigidly applying the crack/cocaine disparity. DISMISSED

Under a provision of the federal Sentencing Guidelines that has been criticized as both irrational and raciallly discriminatory, the penalties for crack cocaine are 100 times as severe as the penalties for powder cocaine. In sentencing the defendant in this case – a non-violent, first-time crack offender — the trial judge concluded that rigid application of the crack/cocaine disparity would have produced an unjust result and thus imposed a prison term shorter than the Sentencing Guidelines suggest. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that any sentence beneath the Guideline range is presumptively unreasonable. In a joint filing with the Sentencing Project, the ACLU argues in its amicus brief that the district court’s sentencing decision should have been upheld, and that this case only highlights the unfairness of the crack/cocaine disparity.

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