Emilie Kurth


The D.C. Circuit in United States v. Stoddard confronted a landmine of criminal and socioeconomic justice issues when it held that mandatory minimum sentences for drug conspiracy offenses should be imposed based on the amount of drugs attributable to the individual defendant (the individualized approach) as opposed to the amount of drugs attributable to the conspiracy as a whole (the conspiracy-wide approach). This decision reflects a nationwide circuit split implicating the courts and lawmakers' ideological balancing of the issues of justice, liberty, public safety, and equity. This Comment discusses Stoddard as well as the circuit split in its current form and argues that the Supreme Court should resolve the circuit split in favor of the individualized approach because the conspiracy-wide approach perpetuates the systemic oppression of poor people of color.

This argument is premised upon a history of inequity, wherein law enforcement's disproportionate targeting of low-income communities of color in conjunction with the over-criminalization of drug offenses have significantly contributed to an era of mass incarceration for drug conspiracy offenses. The conspiracy doctrine exists as a powerful prosecutorial tool in maximizing sentences for drug offenses, and this Comment asserts that the doctrine has historically been misused, and to greatly unjust results. If any measures can be taken to limit the breadth and socioeconomic distributive effects of the conspiracy doctrine, such as adopting the individualized approach rather than the conspiracy-wide one, then the Supreme Court should do so. The Comment concludes with a pragmatic but hopeful outlook that this circuit split will be resolved in a way that ameliorates some of criminal law's most rampant social injustices.

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