jump to navigation

Supreme Court Update April 7, 2010

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

The following is an update from Mary Price, Vice President and general council to FAMM:

In recent weeks, I’ve attended three oral arguments the Supreme Court has held in cases about sentencing in which FAMM submitted amicus (or “friend of the court”) briefs. We participate in Supreme Court cases to push the Court in the right direction.

The highlight for me was Tuesday’s argument in Barber v. Thomas, aka “the Good Time case.” I watched as the justices struggled to do what so many of us have tried – and failed – to do: understand how the BOP justifies its flawed calculation of good time.

The value of our litigation work was confirmed when one of the justices relied on a case and argument raised by FAMM.  The moment occurred after the justices had grappled for some time with the calculations involved in measuring good time.  Justice Ginsburg suggested that the law was ambiguous.   This is important because if the Court finds that the statute is “ambiguous,” it must apply what is known as the “rule of lenity” to sort it out. This means the Court would side with FAMM and prisoners would then be able to earn 54 days credit for every year of their sentence, not just for the years they were actually imprisoned. The rule of lenity only applies to criminal statutes however and Justice Kennedy cited our brief for the proposition that the good time statute is a criminal statute.

In addition to all the complex math and lawyerly jousting, there were also moments that drew the Court back to the issue of real people doing real time and the costs of doing business this way.  Justice Stevens pointed out that there are 195,000 people spending “significantly more time” in prison than they ought to.  Justice Kennedy calculated their additional time at a collective 36,000 years and Justice Stevens asked whether the Court, in trying to resolve the good time problem, shouldn’t take into account the  $100 million spent to overincarcerate federal prisoners.

We won’t know until the end of June at the latest how the Court will rule and I am not going to go out on a limb to predict the outcome of this or the other cases in which we filed briefs.  But we are very happy to have been a part of all of them and will report back to you as soon as the decisions are handed down.



no comments yet - be the first?