Supreme Court expands scope of judicial discretion under the First Step Act

As reported in this Wall Street Journal article, Supreme Court Rules for Inmates Seeking Reduced Crack-Cocaine Sentences, the court clarified how judges should apply a provision in the federal First Step Act criminal-justice-reform bill. As a result of this ruling, thousands of federal inmates serving time for drug offenses now have new hope of being released from prison.

The court said that trial-level judges who are asked to resentence defendants can look at a wide range of factors, including an inmate’s good behavior and how he or she would have been sentenced under current guidelines. Writing for the majority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said judges typically “have exercised broad discretion to consider all relevant information at an initial sentencing hearing.” Nothing in the text of the 2018 criminal-justice bill altered that presumption, Justice Sotomayor said.