The Supreme Court agreed Monday to review whether judges are required to impose dramatically longer sentences for crack cocaine than for cocaine powder, stepping into a long-running dispute with racial overtones.
The justices said they would hear the case of Derrick Kimbrough in the fall. Kimbrough, a veteran of the first war with Iraq in 1991, received a 15-year prison term for dealing both crack and powder cocaine, as well as possession of a firearm in Norfolk, Va.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for a range of 19 years to 22 years in prison.
At Kimbrough’s sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson said the higher range was “ridiculous.”
“This case is another example of how the crack cocaine guidelines are driving the offense level to a point higher than is necessary to do justice in this case,” Jackson said.
The government appealed the shorter sentence. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond said judges are not free to impose shorter sentences “based on a disagreement with the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses.”
Advocates for reducing the disparity point to crime statistics that show crack is more of an urban and minority drug while cocaine powder is used more often by the affluent, and that harsher penalties for crack cocaine unfairly punish blacks.
The case is Kimbrough v. U.S., 06-6330.