Shapiro, Arato & Isserles Files Supreme Court Amicus Brief

On February 1, 2012, Shapiro, Arato & Isserles LLP filed an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court on behalf of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University School of Law that argues for the elimination of the unjust and discredited mandatory minimum sentences facing defendants in federal crack cocaine prosecutions.

For more than two decades, the quantities of crack cocaine triggering mandatory minimum sentences were 100 times less than the quantities of powder cocaine triggering the same penalties. To restore fairness to federal sentencing, Congress eliminated this 100-to-1 ratio in the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Despite this new law, some federal courts have continued to apply the repudiated 100-to-1 ratio to sentence defendants who committed crimes prior to the Fair Sentencing Act’s passage. The Supreme Court will decide whether Congress intended this result in a pair of consolidated cases it will hear this spring, Hill v. United States, No. 11-5721, and Dorsey v. United States, No. 11-5683.

The amicus brief the Center has filed in Hill and Dorsey argues that Congress could not have intended the 100-to-1 ratio to apply to any defendant sentenced after the Fair Sentencing Act became law. Bringing to bear the Center’s expertise in criminal justice policy, the brief reviews more than two decades of empirical research demonstrating that crack cocaine is not 100 times more dangerous to society or users than powder cocaine. The brief also documents the perverse results the 100:1 has produced, like low-level street dealers of crack receiving longer sentences than the importers and wholesalers responsible for the street-level dealing. Given the absence of any justification for the 100-to-1 ratio, and the pervasive harms it caused, the Center’s amicus brief shows that Congress necessarily concluded that it would be unfair to continue to apply that ratio to any defendant. Finally, the brief explains how correctly applying the Fair Sentencing Act in cases of defendants erroneously sentenced under the old ratio will cause no administrative hardship.

Alexandra A.E. Shapiro, Marc E. Isserles, James Darrow, and Jeremy Licht co-authored the brief, which is available here.