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United States v. Armstrong - Significance, Selective Prosecution Claims, Judicial Vigilance Necessary In Drug Prosecutions, Related Cases, Further Readings

court government petitioner respondent


United States


Christopher Lee Armstrong, et al.

Petitioner's Claim

That the government need not provide discovery (relevant documents) in a case of alleged selective prosecution unless the respondent provides a plausible basis for believing that others in similar situations have not been prosecuted.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioner

Drew S. Days III

Chief Lawyer for Respondent

Barbara E. O'Connor

Justices for the Court

Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, William H. Rehnquist (writing for the Court), Antonin Scalia, David H. Souter, Clarence Thomas,

Justices Dissenting

John Paul Stevens


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

13 May 1996


Upheld the government's claim that African Americans prosecuted for drug offenses failed to provide enough evidence to obtain discovery supporting their claim of selective prosecution. They failed to show that the government chose not to prosecute those in similar situations.


As a result of the Court's decision, the Federal Public Defender's office in Los Angeles said it will look for comparable crack cocaine cases of non-African Americans that were prosecuted in state court, as opposed to federal court. Although United States v. Armstrong was seen as a setback for defense attorneys, they continue to find creative ways to attack crack penalties.

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