Critical Crack Case Due in Supreme Court

By Jed Bickman 12/02/11

We'll soon learn whether the new, slightly fairer crack sentencing law will apply retroactively.

Injustice isn't blind. Photo via

On Monday the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that will resolve the longstanding national anxiety about the unfair gulf between sentences meted out for cocaine versus crack possession. Historically, crack has carried significantly harsher punishments, despite being essentially the same drug in a different form. It isn't lost on observers that crack is more often used by poor, black and marginalized people, whereas cocaine users tend to be more privileged. A new law, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, was supposed to reduce the sentencing disparity to a ratio of at least 18 to 1 (the fact that this is a dramatic improvement reveals how radically unjust the laws had been beforehand: often 100 to 1), but it only explicitly applied to new offenders, who were charged after the law came into effect in August 2010. Crack users convicted prior to the introduction of the new law were left in limbo: would their sentences be reduced? That's the question the Supreme Court is set to resolve by hearing the case of Edward Dorsey, who pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute 5.5 grams of crack in 2008. At the time, he was subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years. The case has been appealed up the chain, and we can only wait for justice to be served by the likes of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.

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Jed Bickman is a journalist and copywriter living in the greater New York City area. He is the associate editor at The New Press. You can find him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.