The word ‘and’ could land criminal defendants with longer sentences thanks to Supreme Court ruling

A new Supreme Court ruling will make it more difficult for criminal defendants with prior nonviolent drug offenses to seek shorter sentences under a law whose purpose was to reform federal prisons.

In a 6-3 decision released on Friday, the court ruled that the word “and” means “and”, not “or”, in a complicated case that challenged justices to interpret grammar and the intention of the First Step Act – a criminal justice reform bill passed under the Trump administration.

Under the “safety valve” provision of the First Step Act, criminal defendants could be eligible for shorter sentencing (less than the mandatory 15-year minimum) so long as they did not have: more than four criminal history points, a prior serious offense, and a prior violent offense.

But up for debate was whether defendants had to satisfy just one of those criteria points or all of them to be eligible for lower sentencing – which drastically changes the prison time an individual faces

In the majority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that a defendant must satisfy all of those points to be eligible saying, “Lenity applies only when a statute is genuinely ambiguous.”

“In the Government’s view, “and” connects three criminal-history conditions, all of which must be satisfied to gain safety-valve relief,” Justice Kagan wrote.

Supreme Court ruled on the interpretation of the word “and” in a criminal reform bill

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Justice Kagan was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered the dissenting opinion joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

This is a breaking news story, more follows

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