Federal law bars judges from imposing or lengthening prison terms to promote a criminal defendant's rehabilitation, the Supreme Court ruled today. In a unanimous opinion by Justice Elena Kagan, the high court reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco. The case involved defendant Alejandra Tapia, who was convicted of smuggling unauthorized aliens into the country.
A judge imposed a 51-month prison term, referring to Tapia's need for drug treatment in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ Residential Drug Abuse Program. Kagan said a lower court judge “did nothing wrong—and probably something very right—intrying to get Tapia into an effective drug treatment program. But the record indicates that the court may have done more—that it may have selected the length of the sentence to ensure that Tapia could complete the 500 Hour Drug Program.”