Hill v. United States and Dorsey v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Sentencing
  • Date Filed: November 28, 2011
  • Case #: 11-5721 and 11-5683
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Unpublished Opinion (7th Cir. 2011) and 635 F.3d 336 (7th Cir. 2011)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether the Fair Sentencing Act applies in a sentencing proceeding that takes place on or after the statute’s effective date when the underlying offense occurred prior to that date.

The Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), which went into effect August 2010, increased the drug quantities necessary to trigger mandatory minimum sentences under the Controlled Substances Act for crack cocaine. Petitioner Hill was found guilty of possessing 50 or more grams of crack cocaine with intent to distribute in 2009. At his initial sentencing, in December 2010, the District Court Judge declined to apply the FSA and applied the minimum mandatory sentence in effect at the time of the underlying crime. Hill was sentenced to 120 months in prison. Petitioner Dorsey plead guilty in June 2010 to possessing 5.5 grams of crack cocaine with intent to distribute. At his initial sentencing, in September 2010, he was also sentenced to the minimum mandatory sentence in effect at the time of the criminal act. Because Dorsey also had a prior felony drug conviction, he was sentenced to 120 months in prison. In both cases, the sentencing judge relied on United States v. Bell, in which the Seventh Circuit concluded that the general federal savings statute, 1 U.S.C. § 109, applies to the FSA and prevents it from operating retroactively. Under the FSA, both petitioners’ sentences would be reduced to a 60 month mandatory minimum.

On appeal, Petitioners argue that it was Congress’s intent that the FSA apply retroactively to any defendant sentenced after its enactment. Petitioners argue that in Great Northern Ry. Co. v. U.S., the Supreme Court explained that under the savings statute, retroactivity may not be applied when Congress suggests otherwise by “necessary implication.” 208 U.S. 462 (1908). Petitioners explain that Congress passed the FSA to restore fairness to the federal cocaine sentencing guidelines, and urged the Sentencing Commission to amend the guidelines on an emergency basis. These actions reveal that the implicit will of Congress was to ensure that the FSA be widely and speedily adopted.

The Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to these petitions to resolve differing opinions on whether the FSA should be applied retroactively.

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