Court: Rehab Doesn’t Justify Longer Term


Federal judges may not use a greater likelihood of rehabilitation to justify a longer prison sentence for a criminal defendant, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled this week, reports Legal Times. Federal appellate courts are split on the issue. The defendant, a 56-year-old addict with a lengthy criminal record, was sentenced to 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to distributing 2.1 grams of heroin. U.S. District Judge John Bates said “the defendant may benefit from some of the programs and educational training and the medical treatment that is available in the federal prison system, and that would actually be more available and more useful for the defendant over a somewhat longer period of time than it would over a very short period of time.”

The 8th and 9th circuits have both determined that district judges can sentence a defendant to a longer prison sentence to promote rehabilitation. The 2nd and 3rd circuits say judges cannot increase a prison sentence for rehabilitative reasons. Judge David Tatel, writing for the majority in D.C., said the “straightforward language” of the statute should give clear guidance. “Congress thus spoke clearly: in deciding how long to keep a defendant in prison, sentencing courts may not use imprisonment as a means of rehabilitation.”

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