Thursday, June 08, 2006

Crack-Powder Cocaine Disparity

United States v. Taryll Miller, No. 05-2978 (June 7, 2006): Under the crack guidelines, Mr. Miller’s sentencing range was 324 to 405 months. The district judge disagreed with the 100-1 ratio, and using a 20-1 ratio, calculated the range as 262 to 327 months. The court sentenced Mr. Miller to 300 months. He challenged that sentence as too high, claiming that the court should have used a 1-1 ratio.

The Seventh Circuit definitively rejected this position. ". . . district judges are obliged to implement the 100-to-1 ratio as long as it remains a part of the statute and the Guidelines." Tightening up on an earlier decision that might be interpreted to allow district judges to ignore the 100-1 ratio, the Court ruled that in all crack cases the sentencing judge must employ the 100-1 ratio. Having done so, a judge remains free to treat the resulting range as advisory. However, a judge’s belief that the 100-1 ratio is unjust or unwise is never a basis for going below the calculated range.

The Court concluded with the comment that, "Miller should give thanks that the United States did not file a cross-appeal." Otherwise, it would have sent the case back and exposed him to a higher punishment.

Earlier in the opinion the Court reaffirmed that hearsay is allowable in a sentencing hearing, although it did allow that district courts should avoid unreliable hearsay. In this case, the hearsay came in the form of testimony given in a separate trial, in which Mr. Miller’s uncle had implicated him in a murder. The Court found it significant that Mr. Miller had not made this transcript part of the record on appeal.