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Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Crack Sentencing Disparity Case


November-December 1997

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case regarding the disparity between punishments for crack and powder cocaine crimes (Edwards v. U.S., No. 96-8732) ("Supreme Court to Weigh Sentence in Crack and Powder Cocaine Case," Criminal Justice Newsletter, October 1, 1997, Vol. 28, No. 19, p. 3; Joan Biskupic, "Supreme Court to consider issue of cocaine sentencing," Washington Post, October 21, 1997, p. A2).

The case involves five black defendants who were convicted of conspiracy to distribute crack and powder cocaine. The jury did not specify which class of the drug was the "object" of the conspiracy. When deciding the punishment, the sentencing judge considered the alleged quantities of crack cocaine as part of the conspiracy to distribute. Two defendants were sentenced to life in prison, and the other three got sentences ranging from 10 to 28 years. Steve Shobatt, the defendants' attorney, said that if the sentences were based on powder cocaine, "no life sentences without parole could have been imposed, and the sentences of the three other petitioners would have been significantly lower."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit upheld the sentences, saying that a judge may consider types and quantities of drugs, even if the jury does not (U.S. v. Edwards, 105 F.3d 1179, 60 CrL 1425 (CA7, 1997)). The case will be heard in the spring of 1998, and it is likely that a decision will be handed down before the judges recess for the summer.

Attorney Steve Shobatt - 321 South Plymouth Ct., Suite 1275, Chicago, IL 60604, Tel: (312) 922-8480.