Spears v. United States

PETITIONER: Steven Spears
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 08-5721
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 555 US 261 (2009)
DECIDED: Jan 21, 2009
GRANTED: Jan 21, 2009

Facts of the case

In 2004, Steven Spears was charged and convicted of conspiracy to distribute at least 50 grams of crack cocaine and 500 grams of powder cocaine. The district court determined that the 100:1 weight ratio for sentencing crack cocaine and powder cocaine that the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual (Guidelines) used was excessive given the circumstances, so the district court instead based its ruling on a 20:1 ratio. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that the district court could not decide what ratio it wanted to apply for conviction and remanded Spears case for retrial and sentencing. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of the Court’s decision in Kimbrough v. United States, in which the Court held that the Guidelines were advisory and that a district court does not abuse its discretion by varying from the Guidelines’ prescribed ratio due to disagreement with the disparity the Guidelines create between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. On remand, the appellate court again held that the district court erred in categorically rejecting the Guidelines’ ratio and substituting its own.

Question

May a district court vary from the advisory ratio of cocaine base to cocaine powder used in the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual when determining sentencing due to a disagreement with the disparity the Guidelines create?