The Supreme Court released a Per Curiam opinion in Spears v. US clarifying its position on the crack/cocaine ratio that it took last year in Kimbrough v. US (2007).

The Court ruled that district courts may “categorically disagree” with the advisory 100:1 crack/power cocaine ratio and may choose at will to implement a new standard at their choosing. The district court in this case had implemented a 20:1 ratio based on the ratio justified and accepted by other courts in similar situations. The Eight Circuit had reversed the case, ruling that the district court may only deviate with special, individualized findings in a particular case.

The Supreme Court argued that their opinion in Kimbrough was not intended to constrain District Courts to deviate only in individualized cases. “That was indeed the point of Kimbrough: a recognition of district courts’ authority to vary from the crack cocaine Guidelines based on policy disagreement with them, and not simply based on an individualized determination that they yield an excessive sentence in a particular case.”

The per curiam opinion left this parting shot for the lower courts:

The dissent says that “Apprendi, Booker, Rita, Gall, and Kimbrough have given the lower courts a good deal to digest over a relatively short period.” True enough—and we should therefore promptly remove from the menu the Eighth Circuit’s offering, a smuggled-in dish that is indigestible.

Chief Justice Roberts penned a opinion dissening from the summary reversal and was joined by Justice Alito. Justice Kennedy would have granted cert. in the case and placed it on the docket. Justice Thomas dissented from the per curiam decision but did not join another written opinion.

It is interesting to note that the Chief Justice joined the opinion in Kimbrough and Justice Alito dissented, arguing that District Courts should give “significant weight to the policy decisions embodied in the Guidelines.”

The Chief Justice’s writes in his dissenting opinion that, while the Eighth Circuit may be incorrect in its holding, it is not “so apparent as to warrant the bitter medicine of summary reversal.” He also agrues that the lower courts must be able to build healthy jurisprudence on the Kimbrough decision before the Supreme Court weighs in. He notes that, “The majority may well be correct that its holding today follows from Kimbrough, but it is not clear to me that this result was part and parcel of the holding in that case, especially in light of the language quoted above. At the same time, I do not believe this case meets our normal criteria for plenary consideration.”

Just a few months ago, the Court overruled another Eight Circuit decision on the Kimbrough decision. In Moore v. US, the Supreme Court offered Summary Judgement remanding the case back to the district court for resentencing after the Court of Appeals refused to do so.


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