The Supreme Court today said judges may impose shorter prison terms for crack cocaine crimes, reports the Associated Press. The ruling increases judicial discretion to reduce the disparity between sentences for crack and cocaine powder. Voting 7-2, the court said that a 15-year sentence given to Derrick Kimbrough, a black veteran of the 1991 war with Iraq, was acceptable, even though federal sentencing guidelines called for him to get 19 to 22 years. In another case that did not involve crack, the court also ruled in favor of judicial discretion to impose more lenient sentences than federal guidelines recommend.
Three years ago, the court ruled that judges need not strictly follow the sentencing guidelines. Instead, appellate courts review sentences for reasonableness, although the court has since struggled to define what it meant by that term. Kimbrough’s case did not present the justices with the question of the fairness of the disparity in crack and powder cocaine sentences. The Sentencing Commission changed the guidelines as of Nov. 1 to reduce the disparity in prison time for the two crimes. The panel is to vote tomorrow on retroactive application of the crack guideline amendment.