Saturday, July 12, 2014

Circuit holds for the first time that § 3553(a) factors must be considered in determining length of imprisonment for mandatory revocation of supervised release under § 3583(g)

United States v. Thornhill, Nos. 13-2876, 13-2877, 13-2878, 2014 WL 3056536 (July 8, 2014)

After six petitions to revoke her term of supervised release based on positive drug tests and two additional convictions, the district court revoked Thornhill’s supervised release under 18 U.S.C. § 3583(g) and sentenced her to 36 months of imprisonment. On appeal, Thornhill argued that the district court failed to articulate whether it considered the sentencing factors under § 3553(a) and failed to acknowledge her mitigation arguments. The government argued that the district court was not required to, but did consider some of the 3553(a) factors.

In this matter of first impression, the Third Circuit held that 3553(a) factors must be considered in mandatory revocation under 3583(g). The Court explained that statutory interpretation is not limited to the statutory language alone – the "structure of the section in which the key language is found and the design of the statute as a whole and its object" also illuminate the plain meaning of the statute. Here, the "text and structure of the Sentencing Reform Act, §§ 3551-3586" also informed the Court’s analysis.

While consideration of 3553(a) factors is required for discretionary revocation under 3583(e), mandatory revocation makes no reference to 3553(a). However, since revocation under 3583(g) "is automatic," "[t]here was no need, therefore, for Congress to instruct that the § 3553(a) factors be considered prior to making a decision about mandatory revocation under § 3583(g)." In addition, the usage of the phrase "term of imprisonment" in § 3583(g) "incorporates both § 3582 and its directives to consider the § 3553(a) sentencing factors." Furthermore, § 3553(a)’s applicability "fits neatly within the sentencing regime established by the Sentencing Reform Act."

After holding that § 3553(a) were required, the Circuit concluded that the district court had in fact considered these factors, and affirmed the sentence.

Notably, the Judge Rendell, concurring in part and dissenting in part, contends that district court could not foresee that the majority’s holding and did not "meaningfully consider the § 3553(a) factors." "Speculation on our part as to what the Court might have been considering, and whether those reasons coincide with § 3553(a), cannot be enough to uphold Ms. Thornhill’s above-guideline sentence." Hence, the case should have been remanded for resentencing.

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