Sometimes, the way that Congress drafts a law and the plain language that it uses will have unintended effects for the people that the law aims to help. This is the case for people already in Florida prisons for possessing small amounts of crack cocaine who were hoping for reduced sentences under the First Step Act.
Unintended consequences of the criminal justice reform
The criminal justice reform passed by Congress in 2018 was supposed to make drug sentences more fair. Those already in jail for crack cocaine had faced large sentencing disparities that meant they were doing the same time as people convicted of far worse drug offenses. However, the changes made by the law only applied to larger amounts of crack cocaine. Those already in jail for those crimes had their sentences retroactively reduced.
The law does not help all people already in jail
This did not apply for people who were already in jail for possessing smaller amounts of crack cocaine. These were exactly the people who Congress wanted to help. The problem is that they did not use the right language in the statute. When faced with interpreting the law, the Supreme Court had no choice but to apply the plain language of the statute, as unfair as it may seem. Even the courts liberal justices had no choice but to join a unanimous decision that denied a retroactive sentencing adjustment for a defendant who had an amount of crack cocaine equivalent to four paper clips and was serving 15 years in jail.
Nonetheless, some people already in jail may qualify for some relief under the First Steps Act. In addition, sentencing for some drug crimes has been liberalized. If you have a loved one in jail, or if you have been charged with drug crimes yourself, you should consult an attorney to learn your legal options and how the new laws may now treat you.