Friday, November 15, 2013

Kimbrough v. United States case brief

Kimbrough v. United States case brief summary
552 U.S. 85 (2007)

Defendant pleaded guilty to drug trafficking offenses involving both powder and crack cocaine, and defendant was sentenced below the range of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual based on the disparity between sentences for powder and crack cocaine. Upon the grant of a writ of certiorari, defendant appealed the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit which reversed the sentence.

For sentencing purposes, an amount of crack cocaine was the equivalent of 100 times such amount of powder cocaine, and defendant contended that this unwarranted disparity was properly determined by the sentencing court to have a disproportionate and unjust effect under the Guidelines. The government agreed with the lower appellate court that defendant's sentence outside the Guidelines range was per se unreasonable because it was based on disagreement with the crack/powder disparity.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court held that the crack/powder disparity was not an exception to the rule that the Guidelines were advisory, and the sentencing court was entitled to consider the effect of the disparity in determining the appropriate sentence for defendant. 
  • Although the disparity was a creature of statute, the statute by its terms mandated only maximum and minimum sentences and did not require any specific sentence within those ranges. 
  • Further, the congressional rejection of proposed equality of drug amounts did not indicate that the 100:1 ratio was appropriate, and Congress in fact required a recommendation for a revision of the ratio.


The judgment reversing defendant's sentence was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. 7-2 decision; one concurrence; two dissents.

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