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United States v. Armstrong

United States Supreme Court
517 U.S. 456 (1996)



Armstrong (defendant) and others were indicted in federal court on charges of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute crack cocaine and federal firearms offenses. In response to the indictment, Armstrong filed a motion for discovery or dismissal of the indictment on the ground that he was selected for federal prosecution because he was black. In support of his motion, Armstrong provided a “study” listing 24 defendants prosecuted for drug offenses in 1991 who were all black. The district court judge then issued a discovery order requiring the Government to submit documentation related to federal drug offenses, the races of defendants in those cases, and the Government’s criteria for deciding whether to prosecute defendants for federal cocaine offenses. In response, the Government submitted affidavits and other evidence to explain why it chose to prosecute Armstrong and the other defendants and why Armstrong’s “study” did not support the inference that the Government was singling out black defendants for federal cocaine prosecution. One of the attorneys for another defendant subsequently filed an affidavit from a drug treatment center employee who said that there were as many white drug users and dealers as there were black ones. Additionally, the attorneys submitted an affidavit from a criminal defense attorney claiming that many white defendants were prosecuted in state court for crack offenses as well as a newspaper article claiming that federal black defendants charged with crack cocaine offenses were being punished more severely than if they had been charged with powder cocaine offenses. The district court denied the Government’s motion for reconsideration of the discovery order. When the Government refused to comply with the order, the case was dismissed. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, and the Government appealed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Rehnquist, C.J.)

Dissent (Stevens, J.)

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