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February 28, 2011

SCOTUS to finally consider whether "cocaine base" means more than crack

The Supreme Court this morning is hearing a sentencing case, DePierre v. United States, in which the Justices seem finally willing to resolve a long-debated issue of whether Congress was only referencing crack or other versions of cocaine when it used the term "cocaine base" in federal sentencing statutes. SCOTUSblog has a preview here, which starts this way:

The Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1), distinguishes between “coca leaves,” “cocaine, [and] its salts” on the one hand, and “cocaine base” on the other.  As originally passed in 1986, the Act mandated the same minimum ten-year sentence for offenses involving either fifty grams of cocaine base or five kilograms of cocaine in other forms.  (It was recently amended to raise the trigger to 280 grams of cocaine base.)  On Monday the Court will hear argument in DePierre v. United States (No. 09-1533), which presents the narrow statutory question of just what Congress meant by “cocaine base.” Six circuits have held that this language encompasses all chemically basic forms of processed cocaine, while four have ruled that it refers only to crack cocaine.

February 28, 2011 at 09:59 AM | Permalink


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