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Supreme Court: Cocaine Sentence Upheld via 'Cocaine Base'

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on June 09, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

According to a new decision by the Supreme Court, "cocaine base" is not limited to crack cocaine for the purposes of prosecution and mandatory minimum sentencing under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (ADAA).

Instead, it refers to the substance's basic form.

In other words, the disparate treatment between powder and crack cocaine has now been extended to other substances, such as freebase and coca paste.

The ADAA imposes a mandatory 10-year sentence for anyone who possesses 5 kilograms or more of a mixture containing cocaine, and for anyone possessing 50 grams of a mixture that contains cocaine base.

Indicted in 2005 for possessing over 50 grams of cocaine base, Frantz DePierre challenged his conviction by arguing that cocaine base really means crack cocaine, which he did not possess.

He also argued that, since even powder cocaine contains cocaine base, every defendant can be charged for possessing only 50 grams.

The Supreme Court did not agree with this assessment, and unanimously decided that "cocaine base" refers to cocaine in "its chemically basic form," as in "the molecule found in crack cocaine, freebase and coca paste."

The rationale for this particular Supreme Court cocaine decision was that, at the time the ADAA became law, "cocaine" was commonly used to describe only powder cocaine.

Additionally, Congress knew about crack cocaine, yet chose to instead exact penalties for cocaine base.

It's unclear just what impact this decision will have, particularly in the face of recent changes that reduced crack cocaine sentences so that they are more in line with those given for powder cocaine. But, at the very least, it's clear that there will be other Supreme Court cocaine decisions in the future.

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