Terry v. U.S.: First Step sentence reduction for crack offenses applies only to people previously sentenced to mandatory minimums
A person convicted of a crack offense is eligible for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act only if they were convicted of a crack offense that triggered a mandatory minimum sentence, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 14 in Terry v. United States.
In 1986, Congress established mandatory minimum sentences for cocaine offenses based on the quantity of cocaine. Congress set the quantity thresholds far lower for crack offenses than for powder offenses.
The 1986 legislation also created an offense of possession with intent to distribute an unspecified amount of cocaine that did not trigger a mandatory minimum sentence.
In 2010, Congress amended the prior law by increasing the quantity levels of crack needed to trigger a mandatory minimum sentence. In 2018, the First Step Act made those changes retroactive.
Tarahrick Terry was convicted under the provision of the 1986 law that did not trigger a mandatory minimum sentence. He sought a sentence reduction under the First Step Act.
The District Court denied relief, and the 11th Circuit affirmed.
The Supreme Court affirmed, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Thomas.
The Fair Step Act authorized sentence reductions only for certain “covered offenses,” the Court said.
The Act did not modify the penalties for persons who were convicted of crack offenses that were not subject to mandatory minimum penalties, the Court said.
The only offenses that are subject to sentence reduction are those where minimum penalties were triggered based on the quantity of crack, the Court said.
Justice Sotomayor, in a concurring opinion, urged Congress to enact legislation to reduce crack sentences, such as Terry’s, to also correct “injustice” in those sentences.