Sunday, March 25, 2012

Redheaded Stepchildren & Supervised Release

I've long thought of supervised release violations as the redheaded stepchildren of federal court--unwanted and something no federal pracitioners really pay much attention to. The last year or two, however, has spawned a fair amount of litigation around the country about the maximum terms of supervised release, directing a little attention to the oft neglected violations. The Tenth Circuit jumped back into the fray last week in United States v. Hunt, which addressed whether the terms of imprisonment for previous violations aggregate and are capped by the maximum terms prescribed by 18 USC 3583(e)(3).

The defendant argued in the district court that the court should aggregate all previous revocation sentences, and that the total amount of imprisonment for revocations of supervised release could not exceed the three years allowed in the operative statute. In Hunt's case, he had previously served two revocation sentences of one year and one day each. He argued that his third violation sentence was therefore limited to 363 days, which represented the three year maximum provided by 3583(e)(3) minus the credit for time already served on the prior revocations. The defendant attempted to distinguish the holding in United States v. Hernandez, 655 F.3d 1193 (10th Cir. 2011), in which the Tenth Circuit held that 3583(e)(3) does not require courts to credit a defendant for time previously served on revocation. Needless to say, the Tenth Circuit found Hunt's argument unavailing and upheld the 18 months revocation sentence.

In a nutshell, the Hunt and Hernandez cases reaffirm the nationwide trend in the circuits recognizing that, since the PROTECT Act amended the statute in 2003, courts may impose a sentence up to the statutory maximum on each revocation. In other words, the district court no longer has to give any credit for prior revocation sentences (other than the requirement that the sentence imposed must reduce the applicable term of supervised release that the court may impose following the revocation). In cases with lifetime supervision, the reasoning employed by the Hernandez and Hunt decisions likely suggests that defendants can receive a lifetime of imprisonment for supervised release violations, though it would have to be imposed piecemeal on each revocation. A challenge to the constitutionality of such a reading of the statute is something that practitioners should contemplate if faced with an offender given a lifetime of supervised release, though it's unclear how such a challenge would be resolved given the decisions in Hunt and Hernandez.

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