Terry v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

The Federal Docket

July 12, 2021

Sentencing/First Step Act – A defendant is not eligible for a sentence reduction for a crack-cocaine conviction under the First Step Act unless their offense of conviction carried a statutory mandatory minimum sentence.

Tarahrick Terry appealed the district court’s denial of his request for a sentence reduction under the retroactive provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act, of 2010. The Act reduced the disparity between mandatory minimum sentences for crack and mandatory minimum sentences for cocaine, raising the threshold quantities that triggered 5 and 10 year mandatory minimums for crack offenses. Under the First Step Act of 2018, a defendant can move for a sentence reduction if they were convicted under one of these “covered offenses” that have since been amended to be more lenient.

Unfortunately for Terry, he had been convicted under a provision of the Controlled Substances Act that did not carry a mandatory minimum based on drug type or drug quantity. As such, he was not sentenced under a “covered offense” and was not eligible for a sentence reduction.

Justice Sotomayor concurred, explaining that the law was clear but that individuals like Terry had been left behind and were prejudiced by the unfair, and racialized, sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine.

On certiorari to the Eleventh Circuit
Opinion by Thomas, joined by Roberts, Breyer, Alito, Kagan, Kavanaugh, and Barrett
Justice Sotomayor, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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