They Tried to Make Her Go to Rehab, and She Appealed - Criminal Law - U.S. Fifth Circuit
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They Tried to Make Her Go to Rehab, and She Appealed

In 2011, the Supreme Court considered the whether it was constitutional to extend a defendant's sentence to make her go to rehab. The Court unanimously ruled no, no, no.

So how do you differentiate between a judge suggesting that a defendant take advantage of prison rehab during an above-guidelines range sentence, and a judge sentencing a defendant to a longer term to make rehab available? The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals offers some insight.

Julie Ann Receskey pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. The district court sentenced her to 46 months in prison and 5 years of supervised release. Three years into her supervised release term, Receskey’s probation officer charged her with multiple violations of the conditions of her supervision, including heroin use and failure to comply with required inpatient substance abuse and mental health treatment.

Receskey pleaded true to all allegations at her revocation hearing. Her attorney said that, while her problems stemmed from drug addiction, she had shown herself capable of staying off of drugs for long periods and of working successfully at a job. He urged a guideline-range sentence of three-to-nine months. The court — noting Receskey’s history drug problems and the leniency of her 46-month sentence in light of her drug charges — revoked Receskey’s supervised release and sentenced her to 30 months in prison and an additional 24 months of supervised release.

The district court expressed its belief that Receskey was suffering from a “bad drug problem” and that a three-to-nine-month sentence wouldn’t adequately address the factors that the court should consider in the case. The judge mentioned that the longer sentence would allow Receskey to participate in a Bureau of Prisons treatment program, and suggested that she take advantage of the prison’s mental health treatment and drug intervention.

Receskey appealed her revocation sentence, arguing that the length of her sentence was impermissibly based on the court’s perception of her rehabilitative needs in violation of Tapia v. U.S. The district court sentenced Receskey to 30 months, which was above the recommended guideline range.

Receskey challenged the reasonableness of that sentence, arguing that the district court imposed it for the sole purpose of allowing her to participate in available drug treatment programs. The Fifth Circuit disagreed, and affirmed the sentence.

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. The Fifth Circuit has similarly found that it’s fine for a judge to mention a Bureau of Prisons rehab program to a defendant, as long as the record does not indicate that the district court lengthened the sentence based on its consideration of the defendant’s need for rehab.

Though the Fifth Circuit noted that the district court discussed opportunities for rehabilitation in this case, it concluded that the district court did not base or adjust Receskey’s sentence for rehabilitative purposes.

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