John Roberts on Drugs

Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. George W. Bush 2005)


Ok to search cars without particular evidence in mind

Joined a unanimous opinion ruling that a police officer who searched the trunk of a car without saying that he was looking for evidence of a crime (the standard for constitutionality) still conducted the search legally, because there was a reasonable basis to think contraband was in the trunk, regardless of whether the officer was thinking in those terms. (U.S. v. Brown, 2004)
Source: Emily Bazelon and David Newman, Slate.com , Jul 1, 2005

Judges cannot overrule guidelines even if unjust

Roberts wrote the court’s ruling in UNITED STATES v. TUCKER:

The district judge declined to sentence the defendant according to the Sentencing Guidelines because he disagreed with the Guidelines. As the judge put it, he was “not going to be the instrument of injustice.”

On March 20, 2003, Tucker pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The Guidelines range from 57-71 months’ imprisonment. At the July 18, 2003 pre-sentence hearing, the district court acknowledged Tucker’s drug testing failures, but observed that Tucker had “comported himself as a model citizen since his arrest.”

The district court was not attempting to apply the Guidelines in this case; it instead seemed intent on defying them. A downward departure in sentencing [might or might not apply, but] we vacate Tucker’s sentence and remand for re-sentencing consistent with the Sentencing Guidelines. So long as these Guidelines are the law of the land, we-and the district courts-are obligated to apply them.

Source: FindLaw case 03-3139, US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit , Oct 26, 2004

Sentences should stand despite crack-vs.-powder rule change.

Justice Roberts wrote the dissent on FREEMAN v. UNITED STATES on Jun 23, 2011:

The defendant entered into an agreement with the prosecution to plead guilty to crack cocaine possession. Following this plea, the sentencing guidelines federal judges must consider when they impose prison terms were retroactively revised to lower the prison time required in crimes involving cocaine base [crack cocaine], which were higher than those for powder cocaine. The law permitted defendants who were sentenced based upon the old guideline to seek the lower prison sentence if the guideline was revised downward.

HELD: Delivered by KENNEDY, joined by GINSBURG, BREYER & KAGAN

The Court must determine whether this defendant may take advantage of the lowering of the sentencing guidelines for the [crack cocaine] offense he was sentenced for. Even though this defendant was sentenced in accordance with an agreement, the Court finds that district court judges have a duty to consider the sentencing guidelines at all times, includinwg when deciding whether to accept a guilty plea that is contingent upon one of these agreements. Since the guidelines are the starting point for all sentencing decisions, even a defendant who agrees to a sentence may seek to have his sentence revised after a guidelines change.

CONCURRED: SOTOMAYOR concurs in the judgment

A sentence under one of these agreements is based upon the agreement itself, not on the judge's calculation of the guidelines. However, the agreement in this case expressly used the guidelines sentencing range to establish the term of imprisonment. When an agreement uses the guidelines, a defendant may seek reduction of his prison term based upon a guideline revision.


A sentence based upon an agreement is based upon the agreement alone, whether or not the sentencing guidelines were considered, and a defendant so sentenced should not be allowed the opportunity for a sentencing revision when the guidelines are changed.
Source: Supreme Court case 11-FREEMAN argued on Feb 23, 2011

Other Justices on Drugs: John Roberts on other issues:
Samuel Alito(since 2006)
Amy Coney Barrett(since 2020)
Stephen Breyer(since 1994)
Neil Gorsuch(since 2017)
Ketanji Brown Jackson(nominated 2022)
Elena Kagan(since 2010)
Brett Kavanaugh(since 2018)
John Roberts(since 2005)
Sonia Sotomayor(since 2009)
Clarence Thomas(since 1991)

Former Justices:
Merrick Garland(nominated 2016)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg(1993-2020)
Anthony Kennedy(1988-2018)
Antonin Scalia(1986-2016)
John Paul Stevens(1975-2010)
David Souter(1990-2009)
Sandra Day O'Connor(1981-2006)
William Rehnquist(1975-2005)

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Page last updated: Mar 21, 2022