A federal appellate court has struck down a lower court’s order for lifetime supervised release in a case where the defendants’ sentences were shortened by an earlier appeal. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal supervised release program is not to be used punitively against defendants.
The Second Circuit covers New York, Connecticut and Vermont, while Massachusetts is in the First. However, the issues addressed are the same and Second Circuit decisions carry weight in the First Circuit.
The case involved two men who were convicted of serious and violent federal felonies in alleged furtherance of a cocaine trafficking conspiracy. They were originally sentenced to life in prison, but evidence of prosecutorial misconduct resulted in a new plea bargain and resentencing to only 30 years in prison.
The trial judge seems to have been frustrated by that result, according to the three-judge panel of the Second Circuit. She apparently tried to make up the difference by ordering them into a lifetime’s worth of supervised release.
Supervised release program primarily meant to assist in reintegration
While district courts act appropriately when weighing the seriousness of the crime during sentencing, the federal supervised release program “is not a punishment in lieu of incarceration,” the opinion reads.
According to a 2010 report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the main purpose of supervised release is “to facilitate the reintegration of federal prisoners back into the community,” although it also has an impact on recidivism and public safety. It’s intended as a way for the federal government to help state and local communities reintegrate ex-offenders back into society.
“When a supervised release term is inflected with retributive interests – as appears may have been the case here – the district court commits procedural error and the supervised release term cannot stand,” wrote the Second Circuit.
Every year, both state and federal prisons release ex-offenders back into society. What do you think is the best way to help them become productive members again? Would extending their parole, probation or supervised release period be fair and make a difference, or would it just add cost?