Oral argument: Feb. 28, 2011
Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (Mar. 17, 2010)
DRUG LAWS, MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING, STATUTORY INTERPRETATION, COCAINE
Reacting to the growing concern over “crack” cocaine, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (ADAA), part of which imposes a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for offenses involving either 5 kilograms or more of powder cocaine or coca leaves, or “50 grams or more of a substance…which contains a cocaine base.” Petitioner Frantz DePierre sold 55.1 grams of drugs to a police informant and received a sentence of 10 years in prison for distributing 50 grams or more of “cocaine base.” The court of appeals affirmed the sentence, holding that the term “cocaine base” covers all base forms of cocaine, including but not limited to crack. DePierre argues that in light of the purpose and language of the statute, “cocaine base” applies only to crack cocaine, while the United States claims that interpreting the ADAA to include all chemically-classified “base” forms of cocaine is consistent with the ADAA as a whole. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case will resolve a circuit split by establishing the scope of “cocaine base” and will ultimately determine the mandatory minimum sentence lengths for offenses involving non-crack cocaine.