5th Circuit Extends Tapia to Sentence Revocation

By Robyn Hagan Cain on February 19, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Jesus Javier Garza violated the conditions of his supervised release and was sentenced to 24 months of imprisonment to be followed by 24 months of supervised release. The advisory Sentencing Guidelines range was 3 to 9 months of imprisonment.

In the course of imposing the sentence, the district court extensively discussed the rehabilitation opportunities that prison terms of varying lengths would afford Garza. On appeal, Garza argued that the district court improperly considered his rehabilitative needs in determining the length of his prison sentence in violation of Tapia v. United States.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with him.

In Tapia, the Supreme Court held that 18 U. S. C. §3582(a) does not permit a sentencing court to impose or lengthen a prison term in order to foster a defendant's rehabilitation. In Garza's case, the Fifth Circuit announced for the first time that it would formally extend Tapia to revocation sentences. (That move brings the Fifth Circuit in line with its sister circuits.)

If you're familiar with rehab references in sentencing, you know that neither §3582(a) nor Tapia bar a judge from referencing rehab options. A district court can even urge the Bureau of Prisons to place an offender in a prison treatment program. But there's a problem when the sentencing record discloses "that the court may have calculated the length of [the defendant's] sentence to ensure that she receive certain rehabilitative services." And that's what happened here. As the Fifth Circuit explains:

The record in the present case reflects that after noting generally that the Guidelines range of three to nine months of imprisonment "would not begin to address" Garza's conduct and "wouldn't satisfy the objectives applicable to revocation," the court opined that Garza "should be required [or] at least be given an opportunity to participate in that residential institution drug treatment program" in order to "get [Garza] straightened out." The court then embarked on a detailed discussion with the probation officer and Garza's attorney regarding the rehabilitation programs that would be available to Garza if he were sentenced to 24 months or 30 months in prison.

The record made it clear that Garza's rehabilitative needs were the dominant factor in the court's mind. Because the court offered no additional justifications for the sentence it imposed, the Fifth Circuit vacated Garza's sentence and remanded the case for resentencing.

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