Supreme Court Makes Decision in Terry: 404 Case

The Supreme Court Determined in Terry that "a crack offender is eligible for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act only if convicted of a crack offense that triggered a mandatory minimum sentence."

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The United States Supreme Court Came to Decision in Terry. The Supreme Court Determined that “a crack offender is eligible for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act only if convicted of a crack offense that triggered a mandatory minimum sentence.”

Terry’s Procedural History

Terry pled guilty to a crack case and was sentenced under 841(b)(1)(C). The district court determined at his sentencing that his offense involved 4 grams of crack. He was also found to be a career offender. So while he was sentenced under 841(b)(1)(C) and as such have no mandatory minimum, his guideline range was determined to be that of a career offender. He was sentenced to 188 months.

The Fair Sentencing Act and the FIRST STEP Act.  

As many of you know, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 “reduced the 100- to-1 ratio to about 18 to 1. It did so by increasing the crack quantity thresholds from 5 grams to 28 for the 5-year mandatory minimum and from 50 grams to 280 for the 10-year mandatory minimum.” The guidelines also were amended to reflect this change in attitude. The FIRST STEP Act made this retroactive so that persons who were sentenced before 2010 could file for relief. Terry filed for relief. “The District Court denied his motion, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that offenders are eligible for a sentence reduction only if they were convicted of a crack offense that triggered a mandatory minimum.”

The Court’s Opinion

Writing for the Majority, Justice Thomas indicated that Terry’s offense was different from the offenses that trigger mandatory minimums. While the statutory penalty changed for subparagraph (A) and (B) offenders, it did not change for subparagraph (C) offenders. “That is hardly surprising because the Fair Sentencing Act addressed “cocaine sentencing disparity,”… and subparagraph (C) had never differentiated between crack and powder offenses.”

“In light of the clear text, we hold that §2(a) of the Fair Sentencing Act modified the statutory penalties only for subparagraph (A) and (B) crack offenses—that is, the offenses that triggered mandatory-minimum penalties. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.”

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