The Supreme Court ruled today that federal judges can use discretion to order shorter prison sentences in crack cocaine crimes, to lessen a disparity with sentencing for powdered cocaine. It was a win for civil rights advocates, who have long argued that sentencing guidelines call for longer terms in crimes involving crack because defendants are overwhelmingly from urban and minority communities, CNN reports.
Federal guidelines make penalties for selling 5 grams of crack comparable to 500 grams of powder. In the case at issue, a judge sentenced a crack cocaine dealer to a shorter term than the guidelines called for. In a 7-2 decision, the court said judicial discretion is essential and federal law should determine only minimum and maximum penalties, not "appropriate sentences."