Court says judges can add time to sentences of people who violate release conditions
By Richard Carelli, Associated Press, 05/15/00
WASHINGTON - Federal judges who send ex-convicts back to prison for violating conditions of their supervised release can add a new supervised-release term to their time behind bars, the Supreme Court said today.
Doing so does not unlawfully subject some ex-convicts to retroactive punishment, the court ruled by an 8-1 vote in a Tennessee case.
At issue was whether a 1994 law that clearly gives federal judges the authority to tack on new terms of supervised release to defendants re-imprisoned after violating terms of their original release can be applied to defendants who committed their crimes before the law was enacted.
The nation's highest court said yes after concluding that judges had such power even before the law was enacted.
Federal appeals courts had split on the issue.
Justice David H. Souter wrote for the court that past practice, "linguistic continuity from the old scheme to the current one, and the obvious thrust of congressional sentencing policy confirm that, in applying the law as before enactment of (the 1994 law) district courts have the authority to order terms of supervised release following reimprisonment."
The decision was a defeat for Cornell Johnson and a victory for his federal prosecutors.
Johnson was convicted in Tennessee on federal counterfeiting charges in early 1994 and sentenced to two years and one month in prison, to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release.
His supervisory release was revoked in 1998 after he admitted to having committed several crimes in Virginia, including forgery and larceny.
A federal judge sentenced Johnson to 18 months in prison, followed by a year of supervised release. Johnson challenged the new supervised-release portion of his sentence, saying the judge had not authority to impose it.
In late 1994 -- after Johnson's original conviction and sentence but before he violated the terms of his supervised release -- Congress gave federal judges the power to impose sentences like the one he challenged.
But Johnson said that applying the 1994 law to him violated his rights. The Supreme Court disagreed.
Justice Antonin Scalia dissented.
The case is Johnson vs. U.S., 99-5153.