Supreme Court denies shorter sentences for 1000s of low-level drug offenders

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that low-level drug dealers do not qualify for shorter sentences under the 2018 First Step Act, reports AP. The case hinged on the interpretation of the law's "safety valve" provision, meant to allow minor drug offenders who plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors to avoid harsh mandatory minimum sentences.

In Pulsifer v. U.S., the justices sided with the government's strict reading of the provision's wording. "Today, we agree with the Government's view of the criminal-history provision," Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority. The decision means "thousands more" in the federal system will be denied a chance at sentencing relief, warned dissenting Justice Neil Gorsuch.

The ruling resolves a dispute among lower courts over the meaning of "and" in the First Step Act's text. Some had read it to favor leniency, while others took a narrower view. Criminal justice reform advocates hoped the provision would spare small-time dealers from unduly long sentences. With that "safety valve" now closed, many low-level drug offenders will face stiffer penalties despite the law's intent.

See also: This 38-year-old will spend the rest of his life in prison for possession of 1.5 ounces of pot