Dorsey v. United States: Applying The Fair Sentencing Act

Our West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers know that the federal Fair Sentencing Act, according to 18 U.S.c. 3553(a)(4)(A)(ii), lowers the sentencing guidelines for certain drug offenses in Palm Beach County and across the country. fistbump.jpg

However, the question before the U.S. Supreme Court recently was whether the lowered mandatory minimums were applicable to defendants who committed their alleged crimes or were convicted prior to the August 3, 2010 effective date. Whether the law can be applied retroactively is a huge legal issue that could impact thousands of court cases in Florida and across the nation.

In Dorsey v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court justices in a 5-4 decision vacated an earlier rulings by both the district and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which had held that offenders whose crimes were committed prior to the effective date were not eligible to have their sentences reduced according to the law.

What this means is that the new, lowered mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines are applicable to individuals whose crimes were committed prior to the enactment of The Fair Sentencing Act, but who were sentenced after that date.

As the justices noted, failure to do so would essentially create a disproportionate status quo of sentencing that would be inherently unfair.

To offer a little background:

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 established an unfair system by which those convicted of selling crack cocaine were given sentences that were sometimes 100 times higher than those convicted of selling powder cocaine. This disparity, for the same drug, often manifested itself along racial lines, where African American drug dealers were more likely to be selling the rock form, versus Caucasian drug dealers who were more likely to sell the powder form.

This resulted in the Congressional amendment to this act in the form of The Fair Sentencing Act, which was passed in August 2010 and became effective that November.

This act essentially increased the amount of the drug an offender could have before triggering that automatic five or 10-year sentence. A five-year sentence would accompany conviction on sale of between 28 grams, instead of 5 grams, while a 10-year sentence would accompany conviction on sale between 280 grams, rather than 50. Sentencing for powder cocaine remained the same. A disparity still exists, but it is now 18-to-1, compared to 100-to-1.

At issue here were two men – one who was convicted of selling 53 grams of crack cocaine in 2007, triggering the 10-year minimum, and another convicted of selling 5.5 grams in 2008, triggering the 5-year minimum.

Both men were convicted prior to the passage of the amended sentencing act. However, they were not sentenced until after it had passed.

While both the district and appellate courts held that the new sentencing guidelines were not applicable, the high court disagreed. In the majority opinion, justices determined that by applying these new minimum standards to everyone sentenced after the passage of the act, the court system could ensure a smooth and clear-cut transition into the new rules.

If you are facing criminal charges in Broward or Palm Beach counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
Dorsey v. United States, Justia Dockets

More Blog Entries:
Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense: 2,000 Exonerated, May 24, 2012, West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

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