On Thursday, the Supreme Court surprised many by ruling for the Fair Sentencing Act of August 2010 to be applied to those jailed before it was passed. The law changed the amount of crack cocaine and powder cocaine needed to trigger certain U.S. federal criminal penalties from a 100:1 weight ratio to an 18:1 weight ratio, and eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine. Correy A. Hill and Edward Dorsey, who were arrested in 2007 and 2008 (respectively), brought their cases to the Supreme Court upon facing 10-year sentences.

In a 5-4 decision, the justices ruled that the law should apply to both Hill and Dorsey, which in turn would lessen the sentences of many other inmates. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised the decision as another step toward reducing sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine crimes, a gap that has struck African Americans especially hard.

“Finally, we can find no convincing reason why Congress would have wanted these unfair consequences,” said Justice Stephen Breyer.

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