Drug Court Resentencings and the Sixth Amendment (Part 6)

by | Apr 20, 2020 | Blog, Criminal Law, Drug Crime, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Appellate panel continued in relevant part: Under federal law, the period of incarceration and ensuing period of supervised release are deemed to be “distinct aspects” of punishment. United States v. Work, 409 F.3d 484, 489 (1st Cir. 2005). Accordingly, “courts routinely have held that the combined sentence of years of imprisonment plus years of supervised release may exceed the statutory maximum number of years of imprisonment authorized by the substantive statute applicable to the crime of conviction.” Ibid.

If defendant’s expansive interpretation of Apprendi were correct, the federal statutory scheme upheld in Work and revisited in Haymond would run afoul of the Sixth Amendment unless time spent on supervised release before revocation were treated the same as time spent in prison. However, § 3583(e)(3) expressly provides to the contrary that the new sentence following revocation of supervised release is imposed “without credit for time previously served on postrelease supervision.” It bears emphasis that the plurality made no mention of any constitutional concern with this statutory feature, even as the Court struck down a specific mandatory minimum sentencing provision of that statute on Apprendi grounds. The failure to allude to any constitutional problem with the statutory feature that treats time on supervised release so differently from time spent in prison is telling. In our view this confirms that the Court never contemplated that Apprendi principles might possibly extend to forms of punishment other than minimum and maximum terms of imprisonment.

We find further support for our conclusion that the Supreme Court never meant for Apprendi to apply to non-custodial forms of punishment in the plurality’s response to concerns expressed by the dissenting Justices. The dissent complained, “[t]he plurality opinion appears to have been carefully crafted for the purpose of laying the groundwork for later decisions of much broader scope.” 588 U.S. at __, 139 S. Ct. at 2386 (Alito, J., dissenting). The plurality responded to those concerns about the future expansion of the Apprendi doctrine, noting:

Besides, even if our opinion could be read to cast doubts on § 3583(e) and its consistency with Apprendi, the practical consequences of a holding to that effect would not come close to fulfilling the dissent’s apocalyptic prophecy. In most cases (including this one), combining a defendant’s initial and post-revocation sentences issued under § 3583(e) will not yield a term of imprisonment that exceeds the statutory maximum term of imprisonment the jury has authorized for the original crime of conviction. [588 U.S. __, 139 S. Ct. at 2384 (plurality opinion) (emphases added).]

Notably, in this pointed discussion of the potential breadth of Apprendi‘s reach, the plurality referred to the combination of two periods of incarceration, not to the combination of a period of incarceration and a period of supervised release when describing a composite sentence that might conceivably exceed the “statutory maximum.” The point simply is that even as the plurality and dissenting Justices argued vociferously about the prospects for expanding the Apprendi doctrine, no one raised the possibility of an expansion of the type and to the degree defendant urges us to accept in this appeal. In sum, we read the Haymond plurality and dissenting opinions to be consistent with our conclusion that Apprendi, Blakely, Alleyne, and Ring focus exclusively on prison sentences and simply do not apply to non-custodial probationary sentences.

A counter to the panel’s analysis here is that courts are not supposed to reach constitutional issues unless they are required to in deciding the case. That would explain why the Haymond Court did not address Apprendi’s application to non-custodial sentences.