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DePierre v. United States
United States Supreme Court
564 U.S. 70 (2011)
The federal government (plaintiff) prosecuted Frantz DePierre (defendant) for selling 55.1 grams of cocaine base in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A), clause (iii), as amended by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (the act). The jury convicted DePierre and the judge sentenced him to ten years in prison. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment. The Supreme Court considered DePierre's appeal to resolve a circuit split. DePierre argued that clause (iii) applied only to "crack" cocaine, and that it was chemically impossible for the government to prove that the cocaine base he sold was crack, rather than another equally potent form of cocaine base. DePierre first pointed out that the act was enacted in response to a perceived epidemic of crack abuse. Second, DePierre noted that clause (iii) set a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence for selling 50 grams or more of "cocaine base," whereas for selling 100 times that amount of "cocaine," the act version of clause (ii) provided only a five-year prison term. DePierre suggested that, because cocaine base is chemically the same as basic cocaine, Congress must have meant to reserve the more severe penalty for offenses involving cocaine base only in its crack form. Third, DePierre contended that the government's reading of the Aact could lead to absurd results in other cases. Fourth, DePierre noted that the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines defined "cocaine base" to mean crack. Finally, DePierre argued that because the act was at least ambiguous, the rule of lenity required the Court to interpret the statute in his favor.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Sotomayor, J.)
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