The Supreme Court of the United States ruled on Monday in conception v. USA that judges should have discretion to pass judgment under the First Step Law 2018 Y 2010 fair sentence act in cases of crack-cocaine. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 brought sentences for crack and cocaine more in line with sentences for cocaine. Prior to the act, sentences for crack and cocaine were much harsher than sentences for cocaine, despite the similar chemical composition of the drugs. The First Step Act of 2018 made these sentencing changes retroactive, allowing incarcerated individuals to request a new sentence.
In Conception, Carlos Concepción requested a sentence reduction but it was denied. The Justice Department argued that Concepción’s original sentence of 228 months was within the statute’s range of 188 to 235 months, meaning that district court judges cannot adjust Concepción’s sentence. Concepción was sentenced as a “career criminal”. However, Concepcion argued that because his other convictions have been overturned and his other convictions are not currently considered violent crimes, he should not be labeled a “career felon” and should receive a sentence reduction. He requested a new sentence of 57 to 71 months, citing extensive rehabilitation efforts.
A district court ruled that it could not consider these factors and dismissed Concepción’s case.
The Supreme Court found that the lower court has the discretion to change Concepción’s sentence, should they decide to do so. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the majority, stated:
The text of the First Step Law does not even hint that district courts are prohibited from considering unrelated evidence of rehabilitation, disciplinary infractions, or changes to the Guidelines. The only two limitations on district court discretion appear in §404(c): A district court may not consider a First Step Law motion if the applicant’s sentence has already been reduced under the Fair Sentencing Law or if the court considered and denied a motion under the First Step Law. the Law of the First Step. None of those limitations apply here.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh disagreed, stating in his dissent that:
The text of the First Step Law authorizes district courts to reduce sentences based solely on changes in crack-cocaine sentence ranges, not based on other unrelated changes that have occurred since the original sentence. In other words, the First Step Law directs district courts to answer a fundamental question: What would the offender’s sentence have been if the lower sentencing ranges for crack and cocaine had been in effect at the time of original sentencing? ?
In its Amicus Briefthe American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged the court to grant deference to judges, saying: “[o]According to the government, Congress sub silentio allowed district courts to disregard existing law and facts by re-sentencing defendants pursuant to a statute designed specifically to alleviate an unduly punitive and discriminatory sentencing regime. That reading of the Law of the First Step is implausible.”
Kimberly Robinson, Supreme Court reporter for Bloomberg Law, he pointed the single voting lineup given the court’s polarized nature, noting that conservative Justices Thomas and Gorsuch joined the court’s liberals in the majority opinion.