Monday, February 02, 2015

Proper consideration of rehab at sentencing

US v. Lemon - In this appeal, the Fourth Circuit heard a sentencing challenge from Appellant Lemon, who argued that the district court plainly erred when it considered her rehabilitative needs during sentencing, or violated the Tapia rule.  In 2008, Lemon pled guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud, and she received a 30-month prison sentence, to be followed by three years of supervised release.  Five months into her term of supervision, police arrested Lemon for several instances of forging checks.

The violation report completed by Lemon’s probation officer recommended imprisonment for 24 months, based on the guidelines and the nature of the violations.  At her final revocation hearing, the district court adopted the government’s recommendation of a within-guidelines sentence of 24 months, discussing its perception of Lemon’s mental health, that she must “have a serious emotional problem” with the repetitive nature of Lemon’s criminal activity, and that Lemon needed rehabilitative mental health treatment.

In interpreting Tapia, the Fourth Circuit has held that courts may consider rehabilitation, as long as the court is not imposing or lengthening a sentence to further rehabilitation.  The Fourth Circuit has also held that Tapia applies in the supervised release context.

Here, the panel held that there was no error committed, because the district court did not indicated that its concern for Lemon’s mental health was a factor in determining the length of her sentence, that the court stated it was not even sure that Lemon could receive mental health treatment as a part of her incarceration, and that the rationale for her sentence had nothing to do with Lemon’s mental health, but her tendency to re-offend, and protect the public from further crimes.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed her 24-month supervised release revocation sentence, advising district courts to separate any discussion of rehabilitative needs from its discussion of the factors that influence sentencing.

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