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Mere Mention of Rehab Doesn't Undermine Extended Sentence

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 23, 2013 3:59 PM

Despite what Lindsay Lohan’s recent rehab plea bargain would indicate, a court can’t extend a defendant’s sentence for rehab. The Supreme Court is particularly clear on this issue. In Tapia v. U.S., the Court held that a sentencing court may not impose or lengthen a prison term in order to foster a defendant’s rehabilitation.

A defendant may grab an appellate court’s attention by arguing that a sentencing court improperly calculated rehab into his sentence, but today’s Second Circuit ruling demonstrates why he won’t necessarily win.

Brandon Lifshitz pleaded guilty to two separate child pornography charges in 2003 and 2004. He was sentenced to 60 months' imprisonment, followed by 5 years' supervised release. The conditions attached to his supervised release included participation in a sex offender and/or mental health treatment program, abiding by the rules of the sex offender treatment program, and consenting to the use of monitoring programs on his computer.

Lifshitz, however, violated the terms of his supervised release. The Probation Office reported:

He missed multiple scheduled appointments at the sexual offender treatment program, he maintained a Facebook account even though such an account violated the terms of his treatment contract, and he failed to deactivate the account when ordered to do so. His treatment provider alerted the Probation Office that Lifshitz reported "communicating in a sexual manner with five minors via CB radio and a phone sex line." He repeatedly used unmonitored computers, including computers at libraries and cafes, to access the Internet. He regularly visited a public library located next to a preschool, even after being warned not to.

Lifshitz found himself back in court and facing more prison time. His attorney argued that Lifshitz's release violations weren't entirely a product of his will because he was mentally ill. Accordingly, the attorney said that he should get a lighter sentence. The sentencing judge disagreed, noting:

It is my intention to impose a period of two years' incarceration, followed by a period of one year of supervised release. It's my intention to impose the special conditions that are in effect, that is, a substance abuse program, sex offense-specific treatment and/or mental health treatment, no deliberate contact with children under 17, etc., submission to a search, and not using a computer, etc.

After Lifshitz was sentenced, but before his appeal, the Supreme Court decided Tapia. Lifshiftz used Tapia to argue that the sentencing court committed procedural error by imposing a two-year prison sentence for the purpose of Lifshitz receiving medical treatment for his mental illness. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

The appellate court, quoting Tapia, noted that "a court commits no error by discussing the opportunities for rehabilitation within prison or the benefits of specific treatment or training programs. To the contrary, a court properly may address a person who is about to begin a prison term about these important matters."

Here, there was no indication that the district court based the length of Lifshitz's sentence on his need for treatment, so the sentence was affirmed.

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