Tapia and Supervised Release

Tapia on Prison Rehabilitation

In a 2011 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, defendants were no longer allowed to be sentenced to longer terms of imprisonment for the purposes of rehabilitation (discussed in earlier posts here and here).

In a predictable move, prosecutors and some district court judges decided that this rule only applied to original sentences. More to the point, when a defendant violates federal supervised release and gets sentenced to prison for it, Tapia didn’t apply. Last week the Sixth Circuit clarified and, again, sided with the defendant.

In U.S v. Deen (opinion here) the Sixth Circuit a revocation sentence was sent back to district court for violating the Tapia decision. Here is the first paragraph of the opinion that deserves a full read:

In the mid-1880s, Victor Hugo is said to have written, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” Our national debate about the relationship between education and crime, both in regard to prevention and rehabilitation, has long raged. A part of it—the part that asks whether rehabilitation is a viable penological goal—has been at the heart of Congress’s shaping of the American prison system. A unanimous Supreme Court recently held that the Sentencing Reform Act does not permit a court to “impose or lengthen a prison sentence to enable an offender to complete a treatment program or otherwise to promote rehabilitation.” Tapia v. United States, 131 S. Ct. 2382, 2393 (2011). Tapia involved a defendant’s initial sentencing. This appeal gives us occasion to consider whether that prohibition applies when a court imposes or lengthens a prison term that follows the revocation of supervised release. We conclude that it does. As a result, we VACATE Defendant Michael Deen’s sentence and REMAND for resentencing.