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Justices' Review Of 'Safety Valve' Law Could Affect Many Drug Cases

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear what Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman calls a fascinating statutory interpretation issue under the 2018 First Step Act. It involves a "safety valve" provision of federal law requiring judges to ignore mandatory minimum sentences and follow sentencing guidelines if a defendant was convicted of certain nonviolent drug crimes and can meet five sets of criteria.

Federal appeals courts are split on how the law should be interpreted. Berman says the resolution will affect thousands of drug defendants sentenced in federal courts every year. The case involves Mark Pulsifer of Iowa, who pleaded guilty to one count of distributing at least fifty grams of methamphetamine. Because Pulsifer committed the offense after a conviction for a previous serious drug crime, he faced a minimum penalty of 15 years in prison. He argued that he should be able to get a lesser sentence under the First Step law for his nonviolent crime.


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