Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Reason #178: Retroactivity

Usually it's not that unreasonable to suggest that someone accused of a crime be tried and, if necessary, sentenced, according to the law as it existed when the crime was convicted. For example - however idiotic the Stand Your Ground law in Florida may be, if a jury determines that George Zimmerman acted within the bounds of that law in shooting Trayvon Martin, then it's fair for him to get off; even if the law were ultimately repealed.

But what if a law, or its sentencing guidelines, is determined fundamentally biased or unsound? Such is the case with crack cocaine possession, per the Fair Sentencing Act that was passed by Congress two years ago, and finally enacted last fall.

The Justice Department argued before the Supreme Court today that there could be as many as thousands of people currently working their way through the criminal justice system who were convicted of possession before the law was changed, but sentenced, or are scheduled to be sentenced, after.

Given that the Fair Sentencing Act pertains to the sentencing process specifically and not the criminality of the act itself, it seems fairly logical to me that the new guidelines would be the ones used, but this article suggests that it's unlikely, because "new provisions do not apply to old crimes, unless Congress says so clearly."

In other words, because the law didn't explicitly state that the now-legally-established-as-racist sentencing process should be disregarded for pending cases, we're going to go ahead and keep being racist just a little bit longer. Because, y'know, fairness.

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