Supreme Court Grants Cert. to FSA Pipeline Issue

Hill v. United States (11-5721)

Fair Sentencing Act and Crack Cocaine cases before and after its implementation are going to get their day in the Supreme Court!

Great news today from the United States Supreme Court. With a split in Circuit Court decisions regarding application of Crack Cocaine Sentencing Guideline reductions from the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (FSA), the Supreme Court has decided to hear arguments and resolve this issue once and for all.

In Hill v. United States, the defendant asserts that the reductions in Crack Cocaine sentences which arose from the passage of FSA applies to all defendants sentenced after the date of enactment of the new law: August 3, 2010.

Since the name “Fair Sentencing Act” implies that prior sentencing rules were unfair, its only logical to think that courts would apply the new guidelines to all defendants sentenced after its enactment, right? Wrong.

Although the First, Third, and Eleventh Circuits have agreed with this conclusion, the 7th Circuit has decided to apply the new reductions only to defendants who committed their crimes after August 3, 2010. All defendants already awaiting sentencing after that day were still sentenced under the older, harsher rules.

FSA Pipeline Cases Defined

These cases are called “Pipeline” cases. FSA pipeline cases are where defendants committed and charged with their offenses before the enactment of FSA, but had yet to be sentenced. Many believed they would get a more fair sentence immediately following the bill’s enactment date, and many received no such relief.

What Does This Mean?

The Supreme Court must now decide if the application of the newer, fairer law should have been applied to all pending sentences as of August 3, 2010. If it decides that this is the case, the decision is a huge victory for a lot of defendants with FSA pipeline cases.

Even if the Supreme Court decides that many defendants were sentenced under the old law unfairly, there is still work to be done. Each defendant must petition their sentencing court to reduce their sentence in the same way that the current USSC policy allows for. The biggest change that could come from this decision is the application of lengthy mandatory minimum sentences that could then be removed.

Keep checking in for the latest on the Hill case!

Will Congress Make Crack Law Retroactive?

Crack Cocaine Sentence Reductions – Retroactivity

It is fairly common knowledge at this point that the United States Sentencing Commission has made their Sentencing Guideline Manual reductions for crack cocaine sentences retroactive. However, this policy has raised quite a few questions regarding how it works and who it helps. This article is meant to clear up many of the questions that visitors to this site, and families of incarcerated loved-ones in general, have regarding the new policy.

The Basics

In 2010 Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which raised the triggering quantities of mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine offenses. The Sentencing Commission then lowered the sentence ranges for all such charges. On June 30, 2011, the Sentencing Commission made their reductions retroactive to all inmates in the federal Bureau of Prisons.

This is a good thing. Many inmates will qualify for reductions in their sentences because those sentences were “Unfair”. The new policy, however, doesn’t have the effect of a new Congressional law that would make FSA 2010 retroactive.

What’s the difference?

Policy can only change the guideline range, so those who were sentenced to mandatory minimums under the old law cannot get a sentence reduction (with one exception). The only way these inmates can get relief is if Congress specifically makes FSA 2010 retroactive.

So, will Congress make the new crack cocaine law retroactive? Currently there seems to be no movement on the side of Congress on FSA 2010 at all. It has the opportunity to block the Sentencing Commission’s policy with a blocking Bill before the enactment date of November 1, 2011. However, so far nothing has been presented.

It (Congress), can also pass a new law making all these changes retroactive to every inmate sentenced for applicable crack cocaine crimes. Again, there is no movement on this front either. The good folks at FAMM even made a page with lots of great information and up-to-date news on these guidelines changes.

Vote to Determine Retroactivity of Crack Reduction Today

USSC Crack Reduction Vote

From the Associated Press, an article about the United States Sentencing Commission vote today to determine if the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 will be made retroactive to currently incarcerated Crack Cocaine offenders. If passed, this could take an about 3 years off a sentence of a conviction involving Crack Cocaine. Here is an excerpt from that article :


Congress passed a law last year substantially lowering recommended sentences for people convicted of crack cocaine crimes, ranging from possession to trafficking. The idea was to fix a longstanding disparity in punishments for crack and powder cocaine crimes, but the new, lower recommended sentences for crack offenders didn’t automatically apply to people already in prison. Now it is up to the six-member U.S. Sentencing Commission to decide whether offenders locked up for crack offenses before the new law took effect should also benefit and get out earlier.

Up to 12,000 of the some 200,000 people incarcerated in federal prisons nationwide could be affected. A report by the commission estimates that the average sentence reduction would be approximately three years, though a judge would still have to approve any reduction.

“There is a tremendous amount of hope out there,” said Mary Price, vice president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group for prisoners and their relatives. “There is a potential that people could see their sentences reduced, for some quite dramatically.”

At a meeting in early June, commissioners suggested they want to apply the lower recommended sentences to at least some past offenders, but it is unclear how many. Advocacy groups have asked for the widest possible application while a group of 15 Republican lawmakers from the House and Senate wrote a letter to the commission saying the Fair Sentencing Act passed by Congress last year was not intended to benefit any past offenders.

Keep reading soon as we will post more on this as the vote unfolds.