Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Supervised release revocation sentence related back to initial offense, and Alleyne does not apply in revocation proceedings

US v. Ward:  In this appeal, the Fourth Circuit considered whether George Ward’s supervised release revocation sentence was imposed under the proper version of the statute governing terms of supervised release, whether the federal Savings Statute required a different result, and whether Alleyne applied in the supervised release context.

Ward pleaded guilty in December 1994 to several offenses that occurred between December 1993 and June 1994, receiving a sentence of 260 months (later reduced to 200 months) to be followed by 5 years of supervised release.  At the time of the sentence reduction Ward received, the court expressly left intact the original duration and conditions of his term of supervised release.  Ward left prison in 2010, and in April 2013, the government filed a petition to revoke his supervised release.  At his revocation hearing, Ward admitted the violations, and the district court sentenced Ward to a mandatory sentence, one-third of his supervised release term, pursuant to the version of the supervised release statute in place when Ward committed his original crimes.  The statute was amended prior to Ward’s original sentencing in 1994, but after his initial criminal activity.  At sentencing, the district court noted the harsh result, but that its hands were tied by the mandatory punishment called for by the old version of the statute.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed and held that Ward was subject to the mandatory minimum term under the old version of the supervised release statute (20 months’ imprisonment based on the original 5-year term) because his criminal activity took place while the old statute was in effect. The Supreme Court considered a similar scenario in 2000, in Johnson v. United States, and determined that the defendant was subject to the sentencing provisions of the pre-amendment statute in effect when the initial offense was committed, that “postconviction penalties relate to the original offense.”  Further, the federal Savings Statute, according to the Fourth Circuit, operated to preserve the mandatory minimum punishment provision of the old supervised release statute.

Finally, the Fourth Circuit held that Alleyne’s holding, requiring that a jury determine beyond a reasonable doubt any fact requiring imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence, did not apply to the supervised release revocation context.  It discussed how other courts have persuasively held that the constitutional protections afforded individuals in criminal trials are not similarly applicable in the postconviction context, such as supervised release revocation proceedings.  Individuals on supervised release, according to the panel, possess only “conditional liberty” on account of their convictions on an underlying offense, whereas defendants at trial have not yet been subjected to any deprivation of their liberties.  Thus, a defendant in a postconviction revocation proceeding does not have the constitutional right to a trial by jury under the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.