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December 14, 2010

The interesting issues raised by Tapia, the new SCOTUS federal sentencing case

A helpful reader this afternoon reminded me that I have not yet given enough attention to the really interesting federal sentencing case that the Supreme Court took up late last friday (as first mentioned here).  The case is Tapia v. United States, and the SCOTUSblog folks right now have this bare-bones SCOTUS case-page which provides a link to the bare-bones Ninth Circuit summary disposition and also to the effective cert petition filed by the defendant

In addition, the lawyer who filed the cert petition for the defendant sent me by e-mail the Government's brief in opposition, which can be downloaded below.  Of special interest, the final paragraph of the SG's Tapia BIO effectively highlights the precise issue raised by Tapia and how it relates to the seemingly similar issue raised in the recently argued Pepper case (emphasis in original):

Pepper presents two questions: first, whether a district court resentencing a defendant following a successful government appeal must apply the same percentage departure from the Guidelines range for substantial assistance as was applied in the initial sentencing; and second, whether a district court at such a resentencing may consider the defendant’s post-sentencing rehabilitation in deciding whether to vary downward from the advisory Guidelines range.  Gov’t Br. i, Pepper, supra.  Neither issue is presented in this case.  This was an initial sentencing, not a resentencing.  And the issue here was not, as in Pepper, whether a defendant’s actual past rehabilitation could be a factor in reducing a prison term (because, for example, the defendant no longer presents as much danger to the community), but instead whether the possibility of future rehabilitation could be a factor in lengthening a prison term. However the Court resolves the issue in Pepperconcerning consideration of post-sentencing rehabilitation at resentencing, the decision in Pepper will have no bearing on petitioner.

Download 10-5400 Tapia BIO

In a forthcoming post, I will make a pitch for why I should be appointed to represent the decision below before SCOTUS.  For now, I encourage commentary on whether any other folks think, as I do, that Tapia could be the sentencing sleeper of the current SCOTUS Term. 

UPDATE:  I just came across this newspaper story about the Tapia cert grant, which is headlined "Inmate wins long-shot appeal to U.S. Supreme Court" and gets started this way:

Alejandra Tapia smuggled aliens, abused drugs and jumped bail.  Now she's beaten the legal odds.

In an extreme long shot, the one-time California resident and her public defenders convinced the Supreme Court to hear a challenge to her prison sentence.  The decision, announced Friday, could resolve a big difference of judicial opinion and help shape sentencing nationwide.

Tapia argues that a judge erred when he increased her federal prison sentence so that she might be eligible for a rehabilitation program.  "Rehabilitation is not an appropriate consideration for deciding whether imprisonment should be imposed, or for deciding the length of the defendant's prison sentence," one of Tapia's former attorneys, Doug Keller, said in his brief.

The oral argument and a final decision in Tapia v. United States are months away.  Simply securing Supreme Court review, though, gives Tapia a rare thumbs-up in an otherwise exceedingly bleak life.

December 14, 2010 at 05:43 PM | Permalink


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I gather that if you were to defend the sentence below, your argument would be that 3582(a) precludes district courts from basing a longer sentence on the view that the defendant will be rehabilitated by spending more time in jail -- but it does not preclude district courts from basing a longer sentence on the view that doing so will allow the defendant to qualify for a specific rehabilitative program? Seems like a pretty reasonable reading of the statute; I'm a bit surprised the SG's office decided to go the other way.

Posted by: Anon321 | Dec 14, 2010 10:57:31 PM

now it came to an end with this..!

Posted by: indiana defensive driving | Feb 2, 2011 5:10:59 PM

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