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Court Majority Sides With U.S. In Dispute Over Drug Sentences

The Supreme Court sided with the federal government in a case about which laws judges should look at when determining whether to apply a 15-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. In a 6-3 ruling Thursday, the justices said courts should look at law in place at the time of the original conviction. The majority opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito, reports Bloomberg Law. The case focuses on what time period a court should look at when determining whether a previous drug conviction is considered “serious” enough to trigger the Armed Career Criminal Act’s sentencing enhancement.


The time period between the drug conviction and a firearms conviction under the act can be years or even decades. The ruling isn’t necessarily a loss for all criminal defendants, as drug laws that trigger the Armed Career Criminal Act enhancement can change to be more or less favorable to defendants. The court ruled in separate appeals filed by 6, Justin Rashaad Brown and Eugene Jackson. In a dissent, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said that, "The dispute in these cases arises from the fact that the meaning of the term “controlled substance”—as defined by federal law—can, and frequently does, change."

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