For some people who were convicted of federal drug crimes in Colorado, the passage of the First Step Act by Congress in 2018 resulted in them receiving reduced sentences. This law and a 2010 federal law were passed to correct disparities between the sentences handed down to people convicted of possessing crack cocaine versus those who convicted of powder cocaine. While the supporters of the First Step Act stated that they intended the law to apply to people who were convicted of possessing both small and large amounts of crack cocaine, a recent decision from the Supreme Court of the United States means that fewer inmates will be eligible to apply for sentence reductions under the First Step Act.
Problem with the retroactivity provision
According to the Supreme Court’s decision, there was an issue in the retroactivity provision as it was drafted in the First Step Act. As it is written, the law appears to only apply to people convicted of possessing large amounts of crack cocaine rather than those who were convicted of possessing small amounts of crack cocaine.
While Congress passed a law in 2010 to correct some of the disparity in the federal criminal law, many people are still serving federal sentences for possessing crack cocaine in small amounts from before 2010. Before that time, possessing even a small amount of crack cocaine resulted in a sentence that was equivalent to what would be handed down to someone possessing 100 times the same amount of powder cocaine. The legislation drafting issue means that some federal inmates are unable to seek sentence reductions if they were convicted of possessing small amounts of crack cocaine versus large amounts.
Justice Sotomayor wrote that Congress should apply a fix to the law so that people currently serving long sentences for possessing small amounts of crack cocaine can also benefit from the First Step Act. However, it is unclear whether Congress will act to pass legislation to fix this problem.
Defending against drug charges
People who are currently facing drug charges may want to retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer for help with defending against the allegations against them. A lawyer may also be helpful in determining if a current inmate is eligible for a reduced sentence under the law.