People convicted of crack cocaine offenses have a right to resentencing hearings under a 2010 law that lessened penalties for possession and dealing, says a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reported by the Associated Press. Expanding the Fair Sentencing Act to people whose cases played out before the law’s passage could open the door for thousands of inmates to ask judges to reduce their prison time. The Supreme Curt may end up deciding the issue.
The ruling in the case of two Kentucky men sentenced to 10 years in prison for possession and distribution of crack cocaine expands on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from June 2012. Judge Gilbert Merritt, for the majority in the Kentucky case, said the law “can and should” be interpreted to replace “the old, discriminatory mandatory minimums,” which weighed heavier on black defendants. Letting discriminatory sentences go forward is unconstitutional, Merritt wrote. Dissenting Judge Ronald Lee Gilman said the fact that a disparity still exists, but somehow is constitutional, cannot be explained by the majority. “Congress is of course free to amend the Fair Sentencing Act to make it fully retroactive, but that is a legislative prerogative and not appropriate for this court to simply decree,” Gilman wrote.