Kimbrough v. United States
Whether a federal trial judge may take into account the fact that the current Sentencing Guidelines for crack cocaine have proven unsound and been rejected by the Sentencing Commission itself when sentencing a crack offender. DECIDED
The current federal Sentencing Guidelines impose a 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses. That disparity has been widely criticized as empirically unsound and racially discriminatory. It has also been rejected by the Sentencing Commission itself, whose recommendations have been ignored by Congress. Under these circumstances, federal sentencing judges have broad discretion to sentence below the existing Guideline for crack offenses, the ACLU argued in its amicus brief, and the exercise of that authority is consistent with both the Supreme Court's most recent sentencing decisions and the basic federal statute governing criminal sentencing.
The Supreme Court affirmed that district court judges have the discretion to deviate from federal sentencing guidelines and to consider other factors - including disparities in crack and powder cocaine sentences - when issuing sentences to drug offenders.