Kimbrough v. United States

Kimbrough pleaded guilty to the federal crimes of distributing fifty or more grams of crack cocaine, distributing cocaine, conspiring to distribute fifty grams or more of crack cocaine, and possessing a firearm in connection with a drug trafficking crime. The federal sentencing guidelines prescribe a sentencing range of 168 to 210 months imprisonment for the drug counts and 60 consecutive months for the firearm count. The district court sentenced Kimbrough to 120 months on each of the
three drug violations, to be served concurrently, and sixty months on the firearms charge, to be served consecutively. The district court reduced the recommended sentences for the drug violations because it disagreed with way the sentencing guidelines punishes drug crimes involving crack cocaine more harshly than those involving powder cocaine (the guidelines treat one gram of crack cocaine as equivalent to 100 grams of powder cocaine).

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the sentence, finding that a sentence that is outside the guidelines range is per
se
unreasonable when the departure from the guidelines is based on a disagreement with the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses.

Question Presented:

In United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), this Court held that mandatory application of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines violates a criminal defendant’s right under the Sixth Amendment to have facts that increase his or her sentence determined by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court further held that to avoid the Sixth Amendment violation, the Guidelines are to be applied as advisory only, and as one of a number of factors both that a sentencing court must consider pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §3553(a) in exercising its discretion in selecting a sentence and that a court of appeals must consider when reviewing the sentence for reasonableness. In light of the Court’s holdings, the following questions are presented.

(1) In carrying out the mandate of §3553(a) to impose a sentence that is “sufficient but not greater than necessary” on a defendant, may a district court consider either the impact of the so-called “100:1 crack/powder ratio” implemented in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines or the reports and recommendations of the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 1995, 1997, and 2002 regarding the ratio?

(2) In carrying out the mandate of §3553(a) to impose a sentence that is “sufficient but not greater than necessary” upon a defendant, how is a district court to consider and balance the various factors spelled out in the statute, and in particular, subsection (a)(6), which addresses “the need to avoid unwarranted disparity among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct”?

Decision under Review

Supreme Court Opinion