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June 7, 2010

SCOTUS upholds BOP's method for calculating good time credits in Barber v. Thomas

SCOTUS watchers will likely be disappointed that the Justices did not hand down any of its big pending opinion this morning. But federal prisoners should be even more disappointed that the one criminal justice opinion in an argued case that was handed down this morning, Barber v. Thomas, has turned out to be a 6-3 loss for defendants.  Barber could have been the most practically consequential sentencing case of the Term if it had come out the other way, but now it is perhaps most interesting for its (unprecedented) voting blocks.  Here is how SCOTUSblog reports on the Barber ruling:

The third and last opinion is in 09-5201, Barber v. Thomas... The Court affirms the lower court, with Justice Breyer writing for the Court...

The vote is 6-3, with Kennedy dissenting joined by Stevens and Ginsburg...

The Court upholds the federal Bureau of Prison's method for calculating inmates' good-time credits.

The full opinion in Barber is available here, and I will have commentary on the ruling later in the day.

June 7, 2010 at 10:16 AM | Permalink


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It's really not surprising to see Kennedy author the opinion--his views about what he thinks are overly long sentences are well-known.

The statute is poorly drafted, but the bottom line, I think, is that there's no real way to read it the way Kennedy seeks. The credit happens on a date certain, i.e., at the end of the first year.

If Breyer couldn't get there, I think that says a lot.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 7, 2010 10:37:16 AM

federalist --

It says even more that he didn't WANT to get there.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 7, 2010 11:57:10 AM

Bill, I think on a lot of things, Justice Breyer won't buy outlandish things. With respect to constitutional issues, he's willing to go far (Graham, and his silly idea that long stays on the row are unconstitutional), but the contrary interpretation of the statue is a bridge too far. Kennedy's right that this is an important policy question and that the statute isn't so hot. But I don't see how you wriggle out of the credit being granted at the end of the year. It's obvious that the results drive the dissent.

Certainly, Congress can attend to this if it chooses.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 7, 2010 1:48:02 PM

We complain about mass incarceration, the cost associated with it, money that could be used for numerous other positive causes.

Why not give good time credit to all inmates? Why only over 1 year?

What rocket scientist dreamed up good time credit applies to inmates serving more than 1 year?

Posted by: Florida | Jun 7, 2010 3:54:32 PM

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