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Two Pro-Defense Criminal Rulings by High Court

As the U.S. Supreme Court nears the end of its term, it issued two more criminal-law cases on Monday, one that made it easier for some prison inmates to seek shorter sentences under the First Step Act and another that holds prosecutors to a stricter standard when prosecuting physicians for how they prescribe controlled substances. According to SCOTUSblog, the court has not yet announced when it will issue the final opinions of the term, which are expected to include two more cases concerning criminal and immigration law.

In the first case, Concepcion v. United States, No. 20-1650, the justices ruled 5-4 that trial judges who are resentencing inmates under that 2018 law, which was aimed at reducing racial disparities in cocaine sentences, may look at a wide range of factors, including some that have nothing to do with crack cocaine offenses, the Associated Press reports. The length of Carlos Concepcion's federal prison term for a crack cocaine offense was determined in part by previous state court convictions that made him a career offender under federal law. He argued that the First Step Act resentencing should take into account that one of his previous convictions had been thrown out and others were no longer considered violent crimes. In the second case, Ruan v. United States, No. 20-1410, a unanimous court ruled in favor of two doctors challenging their convictions for misusing their licenses in prescribing opioid medications, Reuters reports. Xiulu Ruan and Shakeel Kahn argued in their appeal that jurors should have been required to consider whether the two physicians had "good faith" reasons to believe their numerous opioid prescriptions were medically valid. Ruan, who practiced in Alabama, and Kahn, who practiced in Arizona and then Wyoming, were sentenced to 21 and 25 years in prison, respectively, in separate criminal cases.


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