WACO (January 22, 2009)—Baylor University Law professor Mark Osler and two of his former students won a U.S. Supreme Court victory Wednesday in a case involving federal cocaine sentencing guidelines.
Osler and former students Dustin Benham, an attorney with the Brown Law Firm in Dallas, and Matthew Acosta, who works as a judicial clerk, began working on the case three years ago.
At issue in the case was the decision of a federal judge not to follow sentencing guidelines that required that defendants who are convicted of selling crack cocaine receive much stiffer sentences that defendants convicted of selling cocaine in powder form.
The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the sentence and ruled that the guidelines could not be rejected categorically.
But Osler and his former students argued that federal judges do have the latitude to reject the guidelines if they disagree with them for policy reasons and five of the nine justices on the high court accepted the argument.
In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts called the reversal of the 8th Circuit ruling “bitter medicine.”
“I was especially glad that two of our (former) students were able to play such a significant role in changing the law in an important way,” Osler said.