Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Court’s Consideration of Rehabilitation Needs as a Secondary Factor Permissible under Tapia

United States v. Walker, No. 12-40748 (5th Cir. Feb. 7, 2014) (Davis, Barksdale, Elrod)

The panel affirms a 24-month imprisonment followed by a 24-month order of supervised release for Walker, who violated conditions of an earlier sentence of supervised release, in spite of Walker’s appeal claiming that the sentencing court improperly considered his rehabilitative needs in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 3582(a). See United States v. Garza, 706 F.3d 655 (5th Cir. 2013).

Since Walker did not object to the district court’s reliance on rehabilitation as a sentencing factor, the panel applies the “plain error” standard of review and affirms the sentencing court’s order. The panel upholds its previous interpretation of Tapia, where a consideration of the need for rehabilitation as a “secondary concern” or “additional justification” for a sentence is permissible, unless a defendant’s rehabilitative needs are a “dominant factor” informing the district court’s sentencing decision.

The panel distinguishes the instant case from Garza, where the district court focused “almost exclusively on rehabilitation in crafting” the defendant’s sentence of 24-months imprisonment so that the defendant could enter an appropriate treatment program. There the court stated that defendant should at least be afforded an opportunity to engage in a residential institution drug treatment program after discussing on the record various drug treatment programs available under different sentences. The court made no additional justifications for the sentence imposed.

In the instant case, while the district court took rehabilitation into account (“I think if you have a longer period of time in prison to think about [sic] and perhaps get some counseling...”), that concern was not a dominant factor. Instead, the court only referred to rehabilitation after detailing factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) that took into account Walker’s multiple violations of supervised release after being given a relatively lenient sentence.

Thanks to FPD intern Linda Corchado for this post.



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