Supreme Court Allows Plea Agreement Sentences to be Changed when Sentencing Rules are Updated

Monday, June 27, 2011
Convicted criminals who previously entered into plea agreements can be allowed to reduce their sentences in situations where a sentencing guideline was later changed, said the U.S. Supreme Court this week.
 
The ruling stemmed from the case of William Freeman of Kentucky, who pled guilty to drug charges in 2005 and was sentenced to nearly nine years in prison based on an agreement that cited sentencing guideline recommendations of about nine to 10 years. But last year the U.S. Sentencing Commission changed the guidelines as they pertained to cocaine convictions, because, even though cocaine and crack are the same drug, those convicted of crack offenses (who are more often black) were receiving longer sentences than those convicted of cocaine offenses (who are more often white)..
 
Freeman had tried to get his sentence reduced, but lost his case in federal district court and again before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. But the Supreme Court, led by its liberal wing on a 5-4 vote, saw things differently.
 
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority: “There is no reason to deny relief to defendants who linger in prison pursuant to sentences that would not have been imposed but for a since-rejected, excessive range.”
 
Chief Justice John Roberts, in a dissent, took the position that a deal’s a deal. “As with any negotiation,” he wrote, “parties entering a…plea agreement must take the bitter with the sweet.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
 
New Guideline Changes Can Affect Old Plea Deals (by Barbara Leonard, Courthouse News Service)
High Court Sides with Defendant in Louisville Crack Cocaine Case (by Andrew Wolfson, Louisville Courier-Journal)
Freeman v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court) (pdf)

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