Proponents who have openly challenged sentencing guidelines for low-level crack cocaine offenders have argued that the laws have disproportionately affected Black people versus their white counterparts. On Tuesday (May 4), the nation’s highest court weighed the merits of reducing the sentences of those offenders as both liberal and conservative members of the bench offered opinions.
As reported by NPR, the United States Supreme Court heard the case of Tarahrick Terry, a Black man who was slapped with nearly 16 years in prison back in 2008 for possessing less than five grams of crack cocaine totally to about $50 in street worth. If the substance were pure powder, the cost would be significantly higher.
An amendment to the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 2010 by Congress and the Obama administration reduced the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine to 18-to-1. In 2018, the Trump administration applied the amendment retroactively.
However, the new changes did little to impact Terry’s sentence, which is set to end this coming September. As a result, the justices are taking note of the issues with the law in place and what steps need to be taken moving forward.
“I think they were much too high,” liberal-leaning Justice Stephen Breyer said of the crack cocaine sentencing guidelines currently in place. “I understand that, but I can’t get away from this statute.”
Conservative-leaning Justice Brett Kavanaugh added,” Why didn’t Congress just say everyone who’s been sentenced for crack offenses is eligible for resentencing, something simple like that?”
Andrew Adler, the attorney for Terry, said that the First Step Act enacted under former President Donald Trump would not give his client the necessary leniency to have his sentence reduced.