WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that people who committed crack cocaine crimes before more lenient penalties took effect and received their prison sentence afterward should benefit from the new rules.
The court resolved a dispute in favor of Corey A. Hill and Edward Dorsey, who were arrested in 2007 and 2008 for selling crack cocaine and faced mandatory 10-year sentences in Illinois. But they weren’t sentenced until after the Fair Sentencing Act went in to effect in August 2010. That law reduces the difference between sentences for crimes committed by crack cocaine and powder cocaine users.
Justice Stephen Breyer said in a 5-4 decision that the courts should have used the new law to sentence the two men.
Breyer said the issue was difficult because the new law doesn’t spell out how to treat people in circumstances like Hill’s and Dorsey’s, and a 19th century law says the old law applies in such cases.
But Breyer said following the old law would result in greater disproportionality in sentencing. “Finally, we can find no convincing reason why Congress would have wanted these unfair consequences,” Breyer said.