Federal Supervised Release is not Punishment

The Seventh Circuit on Federal Supervised Release

A few years ago, the Seventh Circuit published an order clearly showing their views on the imposition and purpose of federal supervised release. That circuit is back at it again with an opinion regarding three separate cases, challenging their supervised release conditions.1  Thanks to the Federal Criminal Appeals Blog for the head’s-up on this one.

There are some key points made by this ruling that anybody interested in the nuts-and-bolts of federal supervised release should be aware of. If you are on supervised release, or interested in the subject at all, the entire opinion is a must read.

The Purpose of Supervised Release

To start off with, the Circuit posted a history and usage overview of supervised release. The most interesting part of this section of the order is below:

“The purposes of supervised release have been variously described as rehabilitation, deterrence, training and treatment, protection of the public, and reduction of recidivism.”2(Citations omitted and footnoted)

The real meat of this point is clarified a little later.

“Supervised release was not intended to be imposed for the purposes of punishment or incapacitation, “since those purposes will have been served to the extent necessary by the term of imprisonment.”3…see also 18 U.S.C. § 3583(c) (directing a court contemplating the imposition of supervised release to consider most sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), except the need for the sentence to provide just punishment for the offense). The Supreme Court has described supervised release as “the decompression stage” between prison and full release.”4 (Citations omitted and footnoted))

What this says is simple. The goals of supervised release are not to further punish the defendant, since that is what incarceration is for. The factors courts must consider when contemplating a term of federal supervised release all almost the same as the one’s they consider when imposing prison time. The only difference is that court’s cannot consider the need for supervised release to provide just punishment for the offense.

The Meaning Behind the Purpose

Let us look at this from the perspective of one who wishes to gain early release from federal supervised release. If, 1) the purpose of supervised release is not to inflict more punishment for the underlying crime; and 2) the “decompression state” between prison and full release is accomplished, then there is no reason to keep a defendant on supervision any longer.

The trick is proving that this decompression stage is over. From lots of prior 7th Circuit decisions, we have these factors that mark this decompression and satisfy that requirement. From the first quoted section, these five purposes of supervision are:

  1. Rehabilitation: have you completed all treatment and aftercare?
  2. Deterrence: are you effectively deterred from committing future federal crimes?
  3. Training and Treatment: do you have enough treatment and education to stay clean from crime and to keep stable employment? Stability of home and job is a key indicator to judges that you pose a low risk to commit new crimes. Sometimes it just matters how busy you are. Job? Kids? Wife/Husband? All these keep a person busy, and no idle time means no time to devote to criminal behavior. “Idle hands are the Devils’ playground” and all…
  4. Protection of the public: Again, this lends to treatment, stability, and reduced risk of committing new crimes.
  5. Reduction of recidivism: At this point it gets redundant, but explicit. What is your quantifiable risk to commit new crimes. If you have zero criminal history, this part is easy!

That’s All For Now

So far, we’ve only viewed about 6 pages of this 68-page opinion. However, this is plenty to digest for now. If you’re looking to get early release from federal probation or federal supervised release, consider the purpose of supervision and ask yourself if you’re finished with its intended goals. If so, you could be a prime candidate!

  1. U.S. vs. Kappes, U.S. vs. Crisp, and U.S. vs. Jurgens; Nos. 14-1223, 14-2135, & 14-2482 respectively and decided April 8, 2015. []
  2. United States v. Johnson, 529 U.S. 53, 59-60 (2000); United States v. Siegel, 753 F.3d 705, 708 (7th Cir. 2014); United States v. Evans, 727 F.3d 730, 733 (7th Cir. 2013) []
  3. S. Rep. No.98-225, at 125; see also Johnson, 529 U.S. 59 (“Supervised release fulfills rehabilitative ends, distinct from those served by incarceration.”) []
  4. Johnson v. United States, 529 U.S. 694, 709 (2000). []

3rd Circuit Applies Lower Mandatory Minimum Terms to FSA Pipeline Cases

Pretrial Defendants

Many times a federal criminal defendant can sit on pretrial status for a long time. Sometimes this status can last years. In Crack Cocaine cases, this can create a problem at sentencing when district courts try to decide which rules to follow.

Who FSA Applies to (and Who it Doesn’t)

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (FSA) was enacted on August 3, 2010. Those that are sentenced before the enactment of FSA, get sentenced using the old rules. Those that commit their offenses after the enactment of FSA get sentenced under the new rules.

These new rules lower the base-offense levels of many crack cocaine offenses, change the mandatory minimum sentences to greatly increase the quantities of “cocaine base” that trigger them, and eliminate the mandatory minimum altogether for simple possession of small quantities of crack cocaine.

FSA Pipeline Cases

But what about pretrial defendants who committed their crime before FSA was enacted (August 3, 2010), but are sentenced afterwards? These are called  “FSA Pipeline Cases” because the defendants in question were in the sentencing pipeline when FSA was enacted.

This is a question that has been asked and answered by four circuit courts. The First, Eleventh, and now Third Circuit (as of August 9, 2011) courts have said that the new rules apply to pipeline cases. The Seventh Circuit stands alone in ruling against applying the newer, fairer rules to pipeline cases.

Sentencing decisions in all other circuits will depend on representation. If you know somebody who was sentenced by any circuit other than the Seventh Circuit for crack cocaine charges, they may well be entitled to significant sentence reductions.

Contact us for a Free Consultation Today!

Call us at (480) 382-9287 for a free consultation to find out how we can help you and your incarcerated loved one get sentences reduced.

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Learn about us and how our services work on our about page.
Read More About Crack Cocaine Sentence Reductions
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Read about the Sentencing Commission’s decision to make FSA Retroactive.
Read the text of the Third Circuit’s recent decision to make FSA apply to pipeline cases.